Government Assistance Programs Aid Underprivileged Communities In New York StateWOODBOURNE, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: Children recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day at the federally-funded Head Start school on September 20, 2012 in Woodbourne, New York. The school provides early education, nutrition and health services to 311 children from birth through age 5 from low-income families in Sullivan County, one of the poorest counties in the state of New York. The county Head Start Program was expanded with a $1 million grant from President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Head Start, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the longest-running early education program for children of low-income families in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A Florida teacher was suspended last month for forcing a fourth grader to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Anne Daigle-McDonald, a teacher at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, Fla., made the student, a Jehovah's Witness, place his hand over his heart during the Sept. 11 pledge, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. (Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden from worshiping objects — including the American flag.) When he resisted, she said, "You are an American, and you are supposed to salute the flag," the boy told a school administrator.
According to several students, Daigle-McDonald admonished the class the following day. "In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge," she said. "If you can't put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country."
Hernando County School District officials investigated the incident, concluding that the teacher "violated a number of state education rules, professional conduct principles and the student's right to free speech and freedom of religion."
Daigle-McDonald, a nine-year veteran of the district, was suspended for five days without pay and instructed to attend diversity training.
"Regardless of the circumstances that may have brought them about, such inappropriate actions on your part do not reflect positively on your position," Hernando County School Superintendent Lori Romano wrote in a letter to the instructor.
The law is on the school's side. A 1943 Supreme Court ruling made it unconstitutional to force a child to salute the flag, giving students the right to opt out of the pledge in public schools, regardless of their religion.
According to the report, Daigle-McDonald claimed she was not discriminating against his religion but was worried "other children might imitate him." She also said her comments the next day were "directed at citizenship."
"I was talking about pledging allegiance to our country," Daigle-McDonald told a district official. "And if you don't want to pledge to our country, you should go to your home country."
It's not the first time the Pledge of Allegiance has been at the center of a controversy in Hernando County. Last year, a high school student was suspended for three days for confronting a classmate wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf who she said did not stand for the pledge.
"Take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American," the girl said, according to a teacher who witnessed the confrontation.
The suspended student later admitted she made up the story to justify the exchange, and that the Muslim classmate stood during the pledge.