LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — An 11-year-old was arrested for causing a disturbance and resisting arrest after he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a school in Lakeland earlier this month, police say.
The alleged incident occurred on Feb. 4 at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy.
Police say a school resource officer removed the boy from the classroom after he created a disruption.
According to the Washington Post, it all started when a student refused to stand for the pledge, reportedly saying that he thought the U.S. flag was racist.
According to Polk County Public Schools, students are not required to participate in the pledge, but a substitute teacher was not aware of that. A post on the school district Facebook page says the substitute “engaged in an exchange of words with the student and called the school’s administration to come to her classroom.”
“The school resource officer and dean of students responded to the classroom and attempted to calm the student down,” Lakeland police spokesman Gary Gross said in a news release. “The student was asked over 20 times to leave the classroom by the dean of students.”
Police said the boy left the classroom and continued to make threats and cause a disturbance.
“The student failed to comply with the officer and the school administrator interfering with the educational process,” the release states.
According to Polk County schools, the officer then made the decision to arrest the student. The boy was ultimately charged with disrupting a school function and resisting arrest without violence. He was taken to a juvenile detention center.
“To be clear, the student was NOT arrested for refusing to participate in the pledge,” Gross said in his release.
The school district says no one from the school requested to press charges or asked for an arrest to be made. They say disciplinary measures were taken in accordance with the district’s Code of Conduct and were fully discussed with the student and family.
The substitute teacher was asked to leave the campus immediately after giving a written statement.
“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,” the district said in a Facebook post.
“We are looking into this matter, but this substitute will no longer be allowed to work at any of our schools,” district officials added. “Our HR department has made contact with Kelly Services, which provides our substitutes, to further refine how our substitutes are trained.”