St. Johnsbury’s School Board has decided to require all public classrooms to hang a flag and make time for the pledge of allegiance.
Currently, teachers may choose whether or not to start the day that way.
Vermont is one of a handful of states that does not require the pledge of allegiance to be recited in public schools. But even in the many states that do require it, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students and teachers may not be compelled to participate.
Still, for St. Johnsbury School Board member Tony Greenwood, the pledge is important. So he convinced the Board to require the town’s public schools to set aside time for it. Students who want to opt out can remain silent. If a teacher declines, Greenwood says another one could step in to lead the class in the daily recitation.
“It has to do with citizenship and teaching the children to care about the country, the school, it gives them roots, you know, it binds them to a community,” Greenwood said.
Allen Gilbert is Executive Director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He says the ACLU does not object to the pledge of allegiance, as long as students can refuse to participate. But Gilbert says the ACLU would prefer that the words “Under God” be left out, to preserve the constitutional separation of church and state.
In St. Johnsbury, Tony Greenwood wants the whole pledge to be recited. He also tried unsuccessfully to get Board approval for a daily moment of silence.
“I mean, there’s a whole lot of reasons why a person, a child, or even a teacher, an adult, can have a moment of reflection which does not necessarily need to be a religious moment,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood says the moment of silence was voted down by Board members who feared legal reprisal from the ACLU. But ironically, ACLU Director Gilbert says that proposal would probably not have triggered a lawsuit, as long as there was no requirement to hold a religious belief.
“But if instead, for example, the purpose is to remember somebody who died or to think about world peace, then that’s probably okay,”Gilbert said.
As for the pledge of allegiance, Gilbert thinks it would be better for teachers to begin each term with an open discussion about the pros and cons of reciting it in the classroom, and put it to a classroom vote.
That, he says, would make it an educational opportunity, and not a rote exercise.
According to the Vermont Superintendents Association, there are no statistics on which schools or teachers include the pledge or moments on silence in their daily routines.