The parents of a South Carolina ninth-grader who say he was reprimanded by a teacher for walking to class instead of stopping and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are suing the teacher, principal, school district and state education officials.
Marissa Barnwell said she walked quietly to class and decided not to stop for the pledge or a moment of silence that followed. A teacher yelled at him, confronted him and pushed him against a wall.
Barnwell was then sent to the principal’s office, which he said was embarrassing because he feared he was in trouble. The principal sent him back to class, but Barnwell said he didn’t let him know that the teacher was wrong and he was right.
“I was completely and utterly disrespected,” Barnwell, 15, said at a news conference Thursday, according to The State newspaper. “No one apologized, no one recognized my pain. … The fact that the school is defending that kind of behavior is unthinkable.”
Barnwell’s parents sued the River Bluff High School teacher, the principal, Lexington School District 1, and the South Carolina Department of Education in federal court, saying they violated the girl’s civil rights and her First Amendment rights to free speech or non-speech at all.
A state law passed more than 30 years ago requires public schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a certain time each day.
But that law also prohibits punishing anyone who refuses to recite the pledge as long as it does not disturb or violate others.
“The beautiful thing about America is that we have freedoms,” said Tyler Bailey, the family’s attorney. “Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not be intimidated for exercising their constitutional rights.”
Barnwell said she called her parents in tears and they said the teacher, principal or district never responded.
Lexington School District 1 said its attorney was working on a response to the lawsuit and had no further comment. River Bluff High School’s website indicates that the teacher and principal still work at the school.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Barnwell said, adding that he told the teacher, “Get your hands off me.”
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