South Portland High School faculty OKs student-led change in Pledge of Allegiance routine

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Leaders of all 12 faculty departments at South Portland High School have unanimously approved a formal change in the daily recitation inviting students and faculty to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Principal Ryan Caron said he received word Wednesday morning that the student-led proposal had “garnered the full support of the (faculty leadership) team.”

The revised invitation will include neutral phrasing to ensure no one feels pressured to stand for the pledge if they don’t wish to participate. The new wording, “I now invite you to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” was expected to be recited for the first time Thursday morning.

The change marks the culmination of efforts by Senior Class officers Lily SanGiovanni, Gaby Ferrell and Morrigan Turner to remind students and faculty of their constitutional rights regarding the pledge.

In the fall, SanGiovanni, Ferrell and Turner approached the faculty leadership team with a request to supplant the pledge with a moment of silence. The faculty team ultimately decided 11-1 that the change was unnecessary.

The issue was quieted for a few months until SanGiovanni, the class president, who leads the pledge each morning over the intercom, added “if you’d like to,” at the end of her invitation. 

SanGiovanni broke no law with her addition. Rather, she verbalized students’ option to stand and participate or not to – a stance that is, by law, accurate. 

The modification, which lasted a few days before it was addressed and truncated, spurred support and opposition. Some saw it as an informed effort on the part of SanGiovanni, Turner and Ferrell to exercise their constitutional rights; others saw an affront to war veterans, and resorted to criticizing the students on social media. 

The girls’ efforts brought to light many people’s misconceptions about the pledge’s role in public schools, and what can and cannot be legally enforced. 

Under state and federal laws, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is not required. That means teachers and staff cannot force students to participate. Schools are, however, required to “allow” students to participate in the pledge at some point during the school day.

Even if students in South Portland already understood their rights, Ferrell, Turner and SanGiovanni still believe it’s worth formalizing that reminder on a daily basis.

“Prior to this issue coming to light and us advocating for a change, many students have told me they were unaware of their rights regarding participation in the pledge, because they had been mislead by staff members,” Ferrell said in late March.

With proposal adopted, “there will be no more ambiguity or opportunities for faculty to subvert the law. The procedure will also be clearly articulated at the beginning of each year so that new students will be fully aware of their rights,” Ferrell said. 

On March 19, the girls, with the help of Caron, made their second formal proposal to the faculty leadership team.

In addition to the neutrality of the invitation and the added stipulation that all students remain quiet and respectful during the pledge, the girls requested that a clarification be adopted in the student handbook barring staff from forcing students to participate in the pledge. 

Further, the request included adding language to the school handbook and discussing students’ rights regarding the pledge in the back-to-school orientation each year.

Caron said Wednesday that the girls will be working with him to craft the wording of the entry.

“I believe that the outcome and the manner in which the outcome was decided validates the use of procedures such as the one that is in place in the South Portland School District,” Caron said.  

“I hope that it was a learning opportunity for students and staff alike.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.