More than a few Riverside-Brookfield High School students, including this year’s homecoming queen, are protesting racial inequality by refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as it is read each morning over the school intercom during the morning announcements, immediately after the state-required moment of silence.
“The reason I don’t stand for the pledge is because, in the pledge when it says ‘for liberty and justice for all,’ I don’t feel like that’s accurate,” said senior Coretta Dishmon who was elected RBHS’s first black homecoming queen in September.
Dishmon said that five or six students in her first period sociology class remain seated during the pledge.
Refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance started becoming more common at RBHS last year as students followed the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before NFL games last year to protest police violence against black people.
“I just think that it’s my little way of just protesting the injustice that happens towards my race in this country, and I feel like a lot of people misinterpret it as disrespect or rudeness when that’s not the case at all,” said RBHS senior Tosin Olowu who began not standing for the pledge last year and continues not to stand this year.
Olowu said that a number of students last year in her Advanced Placement U.S. History class did not stand for the pledge. This year she is the only student who does not stand for the pledge in her first period fine arts survey.
Olowu, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria, said she is proud to be an American but wants to call attention to injustice. She believes that black people and other minorities are disrespected in the United States. She says that she is exercising her rights as an American.
“I was born and raised in America,” Olowu said. “I’m very proud to be an American.”
But, many of the RBHS students who do not stand for the pledge are white.
One of them is senior Casey Whisler.
“I don’t stand up for the pledge because there are a lot of things going on in the country today that I don’t stand for, especially with our current government, and I think the ideals talked about in the pledge are often contradicted,” said senior Casey Whisler. “I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who is passionate about saying the pledge, but that’s my reason for not standing.”
Another is sophomore Kenna Howorth. For Howorth refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance is nothing new. She hasn’t stood for the pledge for as long as she can remember, at least since fifth or sixth grade, long before Kaepernick started taking a knee.
She said that she was initially disturbed by the causal rote recitation of the pledge that she observed at S.E. Gross Middle School.
“It just didn’t feel quite right to me, because there was no emphasis on the words I was saying,” said Howorth. “I didn’t quite believe them and I didn’t see the people around me being moved by them, so I thought maybe I shouldn’t pledge to something nobody really honors anyway.”
Last year Howorth did not stand for the pledge in her honors biology class, and this year she sits during the pledge during her first-period wellness class. Because her class is often in the locker room changing during the morning announcements, Howorth said that many students do not stand during the pledge, because they are busy changing into their gym clothes.
“Many people in my PE class don’t stand anyway, but I’ve been making it a point to specifically not stand,” Howorth said.
As she has gotten older Howorth says that not standing for the pledge has become a more pointed act for her.
“This year, it’s definitely a political statement,” Howorth said. “There are a lot of different factors that go into me not standing for the pledge, but the primary one is the racial inequality in America.”
Howorth says it is important for her to show solidarity with people whom she feels are discriminated against.
“I feel that considering the amount of privilege I have, it’s only right for me to sit in solidarity with people of color,” Howorth said. “And I feel that the racial inequality is just so blatantly obvious, that if people are going to speak up against that, I want to be one of those people. Even if I am only in high school, it’s important to me to be on the right side of history.”
Students cannot be forced to stand for the pledge or punished for not doing so. In 1943 the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to compel public school students to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Howorth said that one teacher at S.E. Gross Middle School frequently told her to stand for the pledge, but she remained seated.
“I know my rights,” said Howorth, who recently wrote an opinion piece in the RBHS school newspaper, the Clarion, explaining why she does not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance as part of a package of stories the Clarion did about the Pledge of Allegiance at RBHS.
Dishmon and Howorth both estimated that perhaps as many as 10 percent of RBHS students don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana and Superintendent Kevin Skinkis did not respond to emails asking for comment about students who don’t participate in the morning pledge.