Help! Can a Student Really Refuse To Stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?


Student sitting in front of flag, refusing to say Pledge of Allegiance

This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on when students refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, challenging paras, and more.

A student refuses to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and it bothers me.

I’m a substitute, and I was recently in a seventh grade math classroom. During first period, the principal came on over the intercom to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. One of the kids in my class just sat during the pledge, and it really got under my skin, especially as the son of a veteran. Honestly, I’ve had enough of the lack of patriotism in this country. As educators, shouldn’t we be teaching what we are doing during the Pledge of Allegiance, what the words mean, who it remembers, and why it’s so important to appreciate our freedoms? I let it go, but my question is, if a student refuses to stand for Pledge of Allegiance, is that his right? —Hand Over Heart

Dear H.O.H.,

This question comes up a lot in our WeAreTeachers Helpline Facebook group. People have a lot of strong feelings about the pledge, and while you feel that not standing is anti-patriotic, other educators feel that it is anti-patriotic to compel students to say the pledge in a country that values free speech. But the law on this is clear.

The student absolutely has the right to refuse. As experienced teacher Richard Kennedy explained, “The students have a right to stand or not stand. They don’t even have to say the pledge if they don’t want to. Many don’t do so for religious reasons. Either way, you can’t legally force them to stand or say the pledge.”


And that’s been true since 1943. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court found that a compulsory flag salute for public schoolchildren was unconstitutional. Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

You’re entitled to your personal feelings on the matter, but they don’t trump a student’s First Amendment rights. And for what it’s worth, I’m a proud military spouse, and students not standing for the pledge doesn’t bother me at all.

I did a long term sub for a teacher who left, but it looks like I won’t be hired for the open position.

I am currently a part-time high school English teacher. In January, I was asked and agreed to take on a new class for a teacher who had surgery. It was supposed to be for six weeks but ended up being the whole semester. I got three glowing reviews and was applauded for taking on an extra class. There is an opening in the school for next year. I don’t have tenure, so I had to formally apply. I was told that I would know by now, and I haven’t heard anything. It feels like kind of a slap in the face not to be offered the job. It makes me want to quit teaching. What do you think? —Hire Me Now or Lose Me Forever

Dear H.M.N.O.L.M.F.,

Wow. I’m sure you put a lot of work into your long-term substitute job and that your students are appreciative of everything you’ve done stepping into the role. It must hurt to feel like your admin isn’t seeing that work. However, I don’t think it’s a slap in the face. In this profession, you have to learn not to take everything personally. Given what you’ve shared about your situation, I think there’s every reason to assume the best.

I asked Kela Small for a principal perspective, and this is what she shared: “There are many things that could be happening to cause a delay in or a lack of an offer. You did a great job, so whatever the reason is, it’s not about you or your work ethic.”

As for the next steps, she recommended, “Reach out to the school leadership and ask for an update. In the case you don’t get the job, thank them for the extended opportunity and ask them to write you a reference letter for your next position.”

I was non-renewed, and a student found out and announced it.

Last Friday, I had a meeting with the Director of Human Resources, my principal, and my union president to notify me of my non-re-election face-to-face and in writing. On Monday, my most challenging student defied me and, in front of the whole class, told me that they don’t have to listen to me because I’d already been fired and wouldn’t be back next year. As it turns out, the principal met with the student’s parents over the weekend and told them about the non-re-election. Apparently, the parents told their daughter because she came to school just to throw it in my face. How can I possibly finish out this year? —Insult to Injury

Dear I.T.I.,

There’s no doubt it hurts to be non-renewed, even if it’s ultimately not a judgment on your future teaching career. To face major disrespect on top of that really stinks. What your principal did was not OK, but at this point, I’m not sure it’s worth it to involve the union. I think the best course of action is to take it on the chin and move on, at least where the principal and parents are concerned.

I talked to Teacher of the Year Caleb Willow, and he said, “In regards to the student, simply tell her that you are here now and you’re still the teacher. The disrespect hurts, but don’t let it get you down.

“Whatever you do won’t be changing the outcome. You will still be leaving that school at the end of the year, so do whatever makes you feel worthy. Because you are worthy of respect. And smile knowing that you won’t have to be in an environment that brings you so much stress.”

My para is making my life hell.

I’m a new teacher, and I’ve had some tough situations with my para-educator this year. Nothing against paras; this one is just unprofessional. She made some comments to me about not wanting to do things I ask because she is “not a babysitter.” She made similar comments to administrators, and they met her halfway with less work. Even with less work, she’s made this semester miserable, talking about me to other staff instead of communicating to me when there’s an issue. When my AP brought her in for her evaluation, she told her, ‘Your teacher doesn’t want you back next year.’ It’s seriously so awkward, and now she’s taking stuff home and throwing away master copies. What should I do? —Counting Down the Days

Dear C.D.T.D.,

It’s hard when you’re a first-year teacher, especially when your assistants have more experience than you. But part of our job as teachers is to manage para-professionals. You have to figure out how to make it work, including giving tough feedback. Even though it’s close to the end of the school year, I think you’re going to want to act to keep things from escalating further.

I asked teacher Tanya Jackson how she would handle it, and here’s what she recommended: “Ask to have a conversation about the issues with your administration present. Ultimately, your para is there to support you and the students. Give clear and specific expectations on ways that your para can provide that support. Provide a checklist or schedule if necessary.”

I also want to mention that what your assistant principal did sounds pretty sketchy. Did you witness that? If not, and the source is your para, I would question whether that’s really how it went down.

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I’m thinking about accepting two teaching positions at different schools since one is virtual and the other is in person.

I accepted a virtual teaching position for next year at what I’ll call School A. But my passion is teaching in person. I interviewed for an in-person position in my dream grade  at School B. I think the probability is high that they’ll offer me the position. If this happens, I was thinking instead of having to choose, I could tell the first principal at School A that I’m moving and see if she’ll allow me to work from home since it’s virtual. If she goes for it, I was thinking I could teach the students from School A virtually while also teaching my class in person at School B. I would be at School B teaching in person while teaching online and giving the students tasks to complete and putting them in breakout rooms every now and then. That’s what most of us did this past year, isn’t it?

Help! Can a Student Really Refuse To Stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?