An 11-year-old student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Florida, was arrested on February 4 after refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. Ana Alvarez, who was working as a substitute teacher on the day of the incident, tried to persuade the boy to stand out of respect. When he failed to do so and engaged in an argument with her, she called the front office for backup. When the boy was asked why he refused to stand, he said that the American flag is “racist” and the national anthem is offensive. The situation continued to escalate from there, gaining national attention, according to the New York Post.
The boy, who has not been named because he is a minor, is reportedly in gifted classes at the school and has dealt with bullying in the past. He felt so strongly regarding his decision not to stand for the pledge of allegiance, that he still refused even when other school faculty got involved. Alvarez, who is originally from Cuba, reportedly asked the boy why he did not leave the United States if he felt so unwelcome. He replied, “they brought me here.”
“Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live,” Alvarez opined.
The altercation did not get physical, but the boy did threaten violence, which resulted in his arrest. He reportedly threatened to get the school resource officer and principal fired and to have Alvarez beaten up, which he later denied in an interview following the incident. He also called several staff members racist.
His mother, Dhakira Talbot, feels that the situation should have been handled differently and that there should have been no need for law enforcement to get involved.
“My son has never been through anything like this. I feel like this should’ve been handled differently. If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”
In addition to getting charged for disrupting a school function and resisting arrest, the student was also given a three-day suspension. Kyle Kennedy, a spokesperson for the school district, wanted to make it clear that the reason the boy was arrested was because of the threats he made, not because he failed to stand for the Pledge.
“Students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Our HR department will contact Kelly Services, which provides our substitutes, to further refine how our substitutes are trained.”
Alvarez will no longer be employed as a substitute teacher at the school.