Wichita students can get permission to kneel during national anthem

Wichita school district leaders have issued guidelines to principals about what to do if a student protests the Pledge of Allegiance or national anthem at school.

“I realize we all have our own beliefs on this matter,” said Gil Alvarez, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, in an e-mail sent to principals this week.

“But whether you agree or disagree, these are the guidelines set forth by the district and we will follow these guidelines.”

Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita district, said the directive was prompted by recent conversations about protests during the national anthem at professional sporting events.

A district policy states that students “may be excused on a limited basis” from classroom activities, including the daily flag salute, because of personal, religious or ethnic beliefs. The policy requires a written request from the student’s parents.

In his e-mail to high school principals, Alvarez said students who object to participating “will be excused upon the student’s oral or written request.” He said school officials should “notify parents, teacher and/or coach about the request from a student.”

Students excused from participation “shall silently remain seated (or kneel in quiet reflection) during the exercise by other students,” the e-mail said.

“No student will receive disciplinary action for merely refusing to participate in or not standing for the pledge of allegiance and/or national anthem.”

No student will receive disciplinary action for merely refusing to participate in or not standing for the pledge of allegiance and/or national anthem.

E-mail from Gil Alvarez, assistant superintendent of secondary schools for the Wichita district

A district policy on flag display sets guidelines for displaying the U.S. flag at Wichita school buildings. In accordance with state law, the policy also requires “a daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance,” which usually is conducted during morning announcements.

The national anthem is played before the start of district sporting events.

The e-mail to principals states, “Disciplinary action can be considered if any student disrupts (this does not mean sitting or kneeling quietly) other students or the class during the pledge of allegiance or national anthem.”

Arensman, the Wichita spokeswoman, said Alvarez sent the e-mail to remind administrators of procedures that have been in place since at least 1994. Schools have not reported a notable increase in protests, she said.

“This is not a new thing,” she said. “Because of what students may be seeing nationally, if a student decides to silently protest, this was more of a, ‘Let’s make sure everything is consistent.’”

Cory Gibson, superintendent of Valley Center schools, said his district follows state law regarding the daily Pledge of Allegiance but does not have any specific policies related to the pledge or the national anthem.

Late last month, he e-mailed an Education Week article about student protests to building leaders in his district.

“If the past is any indicator, public schools are about to have a big teachable moment about the First Amendment, sparked by a burst of tension between President Donald Trump and professional athletes,” the publication reported.

So far, though, “I’ve not received any specific concerns from students or stakeholders regarding the NFL protests,” Gibson said.

Courts have ruled in the past that schools can’t force students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. A 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, was a significant victory won by Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religion forbids them from saluting or pledging to symbols.

Some players sat out the national anthem before the Chiefs-Chargers game in Carson, California.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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