Lawton Chiles Middle Academy: When the Cop Shows Up

Our school has a ritual, a long-standing one. We start the announcements with the pledge. For the first five years of my employment, it was an enjoyable thing. Everyone stood up. If a kid didn’t stand up, the teacher exhorted him or her jovially, and the kid stood up, whining. It took less than a minute.

Cue Colin Kaepernick and his foolish, self-destructive campaign. Many football players started “taking a knee”, which was fine. Stupid, but fine. But then other kids would just refuse to stand up.  Teachers would, as usual, exhort the kids to get up, and they usually would. Until a parent got the superintendent involved, and the superintendent sent out a note saying that under no conditions could a teacher require a student to stand up. These kids, by the way, are not even remotely interested in the NFL and why Kaepernick is taking a knee. They have all sorts of reasons from “I hate Trump” to “The flag’s racist” to “I just want to sit and look at my phone”.

To me, that’s bullshit. It’s our school ritual. If we can’t tell the kids to stand, or kneel, and the kid is allowed to sit on his or her phone during the Pledge, then what’s the point of the Pledge? So I take phones away from kids and they go screaming to the admins, but the admins are firm, so far–the teacher can’t tell you to stand, but the teacher can take your phones.

Most of the time it’s been ok, and I’ve gotten around it, but this semester I’ve got a class of kids who literally refuse to stand. Just 12 of 35 get up at all. That’s far too many to police, so now I just say the Pledge with the kids who stand and randomly remove phones, which keeps that violation in line.

Most teachers in our school agree; I’m not alone in arguing that if we can’t enforce minimum behavior for a school ritual, one that’s been going on for decades, then a) that’s a bad thing and b) we should stop the Pledge and “let the Commies win”, as a particularly right of center student of mine used to call it.

I used to be annoyed at the Pledge for “under God”–as an agnostic, I think the rebuke to non-believers is a deliberate slur that came out of the anti-Communist era and would still be happier if the phrase was dropped. But in today’s world, with an immigrant population that increasingly takes America for granted, the Pledge had become an enjoyable ritual until Kaepernick and the NFL ruined it all.

If schools are not allowed to insist that students simply stand or kneel respectfully during the Pledge, then it should be dumped. At this point, I hate the first five minutes of class, and have asked that the Pledge be dropped from announcements.

All that is prelude to this story about a Florida kid “getting arrested for refusing to say the Pledge”. Key details:

  • This was a substitute teacher.
  • The substitute teacher was a Cuban immigrant.
  • The kid refused to leave the room without disruption.
  • The kid was arrested for threats.

So the media headlines are, essentially, lying. The kid was not arrested for refusing to say the Pledge, unless the police want to speak to Jussie Smollett for buying a Subway sandwich.

The shocking part, to me, was the teacher’s comment to the kid, until I read well into the newspaper stories. As is usually the case when demographics conflict with the narrative, the media holds back or delays release of demographics. So it’s well into the story before you learn  the sub, Ana Chavez, is an immigrant, while the kid in question is, I think, a non-immigrant African American.

We come, once again, to the clash of “Who/Whom?”. Normally, immigrants can say things that white Americans can’t, so Ana Chavez probably thought she was secure in her ability to criticize a snotty little kid who wouldn’t stand for the flag. Notice that she actually put her comment in the report!

But no one warned Ana of the dire fate that awaits the loser of a narrative clash. On the plus side, Ana Chavez is a common name, so she can leave town and sub somewhere else.

The administrator decision to remove the student from the classroom isn’t surprising. We have a nationwide sub shortage. If the sub had said “remove this kid because he’s wearing a blue shirt that’s hurting my eyes”, he probably would have removed the kid and took him to another room saying “Sorry, don’t worry, this is no big deal.” Maybe dump the sub, maybe not, depending on the scarcity, the sub, and the kid.

What I don’t understand, and can’t without more information, is why the school resource officer was called in.  I can think of two possibilities off hand. First, the administrator came, the kid refused to go, and then the SRO showed up. Second, the administrator and the SRO came together, and I can only conceive of that occurring if the student was utterly out of control–or the substitute teacher made it sound that way.

Then I looked up the school and considered a third possibility:  Lawton Chiles is a fairly rich, very high-achieving middle school (supposedly ranked 11th in the entire state) and is also 15% black, with  most  blacks scoring proficient on state tests. Perhaps they don’t have many discipline problems, so the dean and SRO are twiddling their thumbs waiting for each call. Unlikely, but I offer it up.

However, this part seems quite clear:

The student was asked more than 20 times to leave the classroom by the dean of students and the school resource officer intervened, asking the student to leave the classroom and the student refused, the police say.

Police say the student eventually left the classroom and created another disturbance, making threats while he was escorted to the office at the school.

They didn’t walk into the room and arrest him. They asked him to leave. More than twenty times. Many, many school officials read about the events at Spring Valley and learned their lesson well. They made no effort to physically force the boy from the room.

Eventually, the sixth-grader did leave, probably making threats. But it took a long time, and during that time, that student had directly disobeyed a police officer. Once he left, he apparently made more threats.

Do I think he should have been arrested? Absolutely not, on the evidence.

But my primary reason for writing this short piece is to remind people, once again, that the underlying issue becomes irrelevant once a cop shows up. Students–particularly  black students, it seems–need to learn a fundamental truth: don’t treat a cop like a teacher.  The minute the cop walks into the room, the facts on the ground shift unalterably.

I wish more of the media coverage would focus on this, which is of course a foolish dream. The media wants to convince everyone that schools are racist, that black children are deliberately put on a school-to-prison pipeline because of white teachers’ intolerance and bigotry.

Perhaps consider this: the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy case is a big step up from Spring Valley. The dean and the SRO acted with restraint in removing the recalcitrant student from the classroom. Perhaps they arrested the young boy because they can’t allow students to holler violent threats with impunity. Whatever their reason, reports make it clear they didn’t just charge in and lock the kid up.

Perhaps people should tell Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, that while she might wish the school had handled things differently, her most pressing responsibility is to tell her son that no matter what he feels about the flag, or his unjust treatment, he must understand the facts on the ground once a cop shows up to talk to him. Obey the cop. No matter what. Things will get straightened out later.

They can tell her white parents tell their kids the same thing, if it helps.

About educationrealist

23 responses to “Lawton Chiles Middle Academy: When the Cop Shows Up

  • Mark Roulo

    “Perhaps people should tell Dhakira Talbot, the boy’s mother, that while she might wish the school had handled things differently, her most pressing responsibility is to tell her son that no matter what he feels about the flag, or his unjust treatment, he must understand the facts on the ground once a cop shows up to talk to him. Obey the cop. No matter what. Things will get straightened out later.”

    I’m feeling snarky today. We could start a go-fund-me NOW for the kid’s funeral in about 7-8 years. The funeral to take place after the kid, then 18-19, scares a cop.


  • beancrusher

    This is -of course- far, far from your point… but you say:

    “I used to be annoyed at the Pledge for “under God”–as an agnostic, I think the rebuke to non-believers is a deliberate slur that came out of the anti-Communist era and would still be happier if the phrase was dropped.”

    What makes it annoying to me is the ridiculous pause inserted between ‘Nation’ and ‘under’. There is no comma there, there should be no pause. Inserting a comma there does seem to require the individual to express a belief in the Judeo Christian God. But without it, it is more of a statement of the singular nature of the Nation, and is, to my ear, less annoying. It is the way I recite it (quietly) when needed, and the way I lead it on those infrequent occasions I am called to do so. There is no comma there in the officially adopted version of Section 4 of the US Code.

    [Rant off]

    • educationrealist

      I’ve tried reading it different ways, and no matter which way it goes, I think it’s saying the nation was ordained by god. And I wouldn’t mind as much if the original pledge had been written that way. The offense, to me, is the fact it was added in, like “we Americans aren’t like those godless commies”.

      However, the more the country changes, the more I realize that, even if the Christians won’t have me, I am Judeo Christian. The god I don’t believe in is the Christian god. I have much more common culturally and morally with a devout Christian than I do with a Muslim or Korean non-believer. So I am less bothered by it than I was, but it still twinges me every time.

  • Chuck

    Hey there

    I was wondering if situations like these can’t be used as civics, social studies or history lesson to show all who will listen the many sides of an issue.

    Please don’t tell me there isn’t enough time in a day already or children should just…

    What do you think?


  • renato

    Most teachers **are** our school agree;

  • Graves

    Even if you think WVBoE v Barnette doesn’t necessarily extend to standing vs sitting, this should have been clear since Tinker v Des Moines. Sitting quietly during the pledge (phones are a different story) is not disruptive. There’s precedent in at least the 11th circuit on this specific issue, and your superintendent’s note should serve as partial evidence this legal opinion is widely held.

    An important point in learning to stand up for your rights is also learning that it’s easier to do so from the street than a jail, and easier from a jail than a coffin, and to that end, obeying police is often necessary and wise. I agree with that.

    But the bigger takeaway from this post for me was that public school teachers apparently still enthusiastically infringe on their students’ rights and seem to regard policies to the contrary as annoying bureaucracy or unwelcome interference.

  • educationrealist

    You’re an idiot. I agree with that.

    • Graves

      What cutting wit.

      You can disagree with first amendment law all you want, but it doesn’t make what happened in your school any less predictable. There’s no shortage of rules you have the legal authority to enforce, maybe you should’ve stopped with the ones you don’t before someone called your bluff.

      • educationrealist

        Still a moron. And not for the reasons you think. Or pretend to think.

        Don’t be a tedious fuckwit. You don’t understand my position, and you’re not interesting enough to bother explaining it to.

      • Graves

        It’s true I’m no mind-reader.
        But what else would lead you to consider a note reminding you you’re not allowed to tell students to stand as “bullshit”? Either you disagree with the policy or you think the superintendent should stay out of it or… what? Parents shouldn’t be allowed to talk to superintendents? Students should have to argue their case directly to you, no appeals allowed? Other aspects of the memo which are not in the article are bullshit, and you forgot you edited those parts out of the post?

      • educationrealist

        I do disagree with the policy that says a student can do anything he or she likes during the pledge. They are several options: stand and say the pledge, stand and don’t say the pledge, kneel.

        You say it’s ok to ban phones during the pledge, but how can that be enforced? If the teacher is saying the pledge, then the teacher can’t be wandering around making sure that all the kids who aren’t standing aren’t on their phones, aren’t talking, aren’t doing whatever. So it’s a pointless restriction.

        If kids are required to leave their seat and then take the action of their choice, that’s a perfectly reasonable response that respects the school’s decision to take the pledge while still giving students a way to demonstrate against it.

        And you’re pretty freaking delusional if you think that most kids are making a real protest, as opposed to just wanting to finish the phone.

        So yes, I disagree with a policy that says the kids can do anything they want during the pledge. And if you can read at all, you’ll notice that my stated preference, understanding that schools have to deal with asswits like you, is to eliminate the Pledge recital, not make kids stand.

      • Graves

        And I’m telling you that neither standing nor kneeling but sitting quietly has been constitutionally protected for decades. Whether or not you or I find their reasons illegitimate is largely immaterial – you’re allowed to “say” something whether you really believe it or not, whether other people think it makes sense or not. Attempting to prevent them from sitting was always doomed.

        Obviously this will be abused by the lazy. I’m sorry that sitting without phone usage is apparently unenforceable in your school. But that fact doesn’t make sitting disruptive in itself, and your previous solution of making them stand or kneel or otherwise get out of their seats is, as I characterized earlier, “infring[ing] on [your] students’ rights.” I guess maybe you could get away with telling everyone to stand for some other reason and then letting them sit or whatever for the pledge, but I don’t think that’s what you’re proposing.

        And yes, I know that now you prefer to get rid of the pledge. But the case law was the same before the superintendent weighed in and before Kaepernick started his kneel-a-thon.

      • educationrealist

        “And I’m telling you that neither standing nor kneeling but sitting quietly has been constitutionally protected for decades.”

        You don’t have to tell me that. And sitting without phone usage WHILE THE PLEDGE IS ON is unenforceable.

        And go find a grandma if you have a burning need to teach egg-sucking. If you can’t figure out why this is attributed to CK, find a teenager to explain it to. Three comments in and you’re still not offering much.

      • Annla

        Graves is legally correct. I tell all my students it is their legal right to refuse to stand for the pledge. Any teacher who tries to make them is violating their rights.

      • educationrealist

        I didn’t say he was incorrect. However, I also think it’s flatly wrong to allow a student to do whatever he likes.

    • Roger Sweeny

      I’m surprised the kids can have their phones out in the classroom. My school had a pretty firm policy: you can look at your phone before or after school or in the hall, but once you’re in the classroom, it has to be away.

      Partly, it was symbolic–you’re in the classroom to do schoolwork–and partly practical, a very simple rule so a student couldn’t say, “I was putting it away.” or “I wasn’t looking at it” or …

      • Annla

        The phones are killing learning. Half the teachers let the students be on phones because that is their classroom management. They may not be learning but at least they aren’t a problem. (inner city school) It makes it exponentially harder for those of us who want students focused on class.

      • educationrealist

        Kids in inner city schools probably weren’t learning anyway, but you can take the phones away.

      • Roger Sweeny

        When our kids were teens, we told them, “Any time you feel uncomfortable about doing something, feel free to blame us: ‘my parents won’t let me.’ We’re always willing to be the fall guy.”

        School systems need to have, need to publicize, and need to enforce a “no phones in the classroom” policy. Which may include steps, e.g., first offense is a warning “put it away”, second is confiscation with return at the end of the period, third is confiscation and get it from the vice principal at the end of the day. The idea is to allow the teacher to say, “It’s out of my hands. I have to abide by the rules.”

  • Robert

    The level of misreporting is getting nuts.

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