Last week news stations began reporting on a student arrested at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Polk County Public Schools would like to make clear that this arrest was conducted by the Lakeland Police Department. Please see LPD’s release on this incident here. We defer to LPD for additional information on this arrest.
However, we would like to share a few essential facts of this incident:
The student was arrested after becoming disruptive and refusing to follow repeated instructions by school staff and law enforcement. This incident followed the daily Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.
To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge; students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance (see F.S. 1003.44, as well as page 5 of the Code of Student Conduct).
Unfortunately, a substitute teacher was not aware of this, and she engaged in an exchange of words with the student and called the school’s administration to come to her classroom. The school’s resource officer, who is permanently assigned to the campus, also responded to the substitute’s classroom but was not called by the administration regarding the incident.
The School Resource Officer (SRO) made the decision to arrest the student. No one from the school requested charges to be pressed or for an arrest to be made.
The substitute teacher, hired by Kelly Services, was asked to leave campus immediately after providing a written statement.
Disciplinary measures were taken in accordance with the district’s Code of Conduct, and were fully discussed with both the student and family.
We are looking into this matter, but this substitute will no longer be allowed to work at any of our schools. Our HR department has made contact with Kelly Services, which provides our substitutes, to further refine how our substitutes are trained.
We do not condone the substitute’s behavior. We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn.