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School Board Chairman’s Statement on Pledge Sparks Controversy

| November 20, 2017 | 0 Comments | Education

Screen capture of Sawyer’s Nov. 20th Tweet regarding standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.

For the past several months, Americans have been discussing whether or not it is disrespectful to kneel during the National Anthem at a sporting event. Now, a similar debate has erupted in Prince William County.

A statement Prince William School Board Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers Tweeted, Monday, in regards to standing for the Pledge of Allegiance sparked controversy, garnering both criticism and praise from residents

Sawyers also took heat for calling President Donald Trump a “bonafide idiot.”

The Tweet, from @Ryan SawyersVA, posted Nov. 20 at approximately 11 a.m., said that Prince William County students do not need to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Attention PWCS students and staff. Your (sic) not required to stand for the national anthem or pledge. There will be no action taken against you for choosing to not stand or participate.

Our President is a bonafide idiot but you are safe in PWCS.

Based upon his attachment, Sawyers was responding to President Trump’s post (@realDonaldTrump, Nov. 20 at 6:25 a.m.) in which the President criticizes NFL players for not standing during the National Anthem and called for them to be suspended.

Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos (sic) for our National Anthem. Great disrespect! Next time NFL should suspend him for remainder of season. Attendance and ratings way down.

Soon after Sawyers’ post, residents took to social media sites to discuss. 

Many citizens said a refusal to stand for the Pledge demonstrates disrespect to the country, veterans and those who died defending our country. While others said it promotes general disrespect towards teachers and school expectations. 

Others said while Sawyers was correct to defend Freedom of Speech, it was unprofessional of him to call the President an insulting name. 

Still, many are defending Sawyers. They say he has the law on his side as well as First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech, and he is sticking up for those who need defending. 

While some said he should have stopped at insulting Trump, others said that the President routinely insults people on Twitter, so why should Sawyers be held to a higher standard?

While people will have differing opinions, there are laws and precedents governing the right to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem. According to Supreme Court ruling in “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943,” students are not required to stand.

In addition to Freedom of Speech, the ruling is largely based on the fact that some religions discourage swearing oaths or alliances.

Prince William Regulations 052.01 states that standing for the Pledge of Allegiance is not compulsory. 

The regulation goes on to say that “individuals who, for religious or other deep personal convictions, do not choose to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance shall stand or sit quietly out of respect for the views of others and shall make no display that disrupts or distracts others who are reciting the Pledge.”

Sawyers hopes to run on the Democratic ticket to represent Virginia’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. First, he will have to run in a primary race. Commenting on issues may be one way for him to distinguish himself and help residents in the 1st District understand his point of view on a myriad of topics.

In a follow-up Tweet, around 4 p.m., Sawyers said he and his children stand for the pledge, but he wants to also protect those who do not.

I stand every time, but that’s my choice. My kids stand every time too. That’s because I taught them to. Free speech and freedom of choice is a beautiful thing. However, as Chairman if someone is retaliated against for exercising that right…we have a problem.

After receiving more criticism, he responded once more, at 4:40 p.m.

“Cool. Let me say it again. I stand every time but I will not retaliate against a student or employee for exercising their (sic) first amendment rights. Period. Never. Never ever.”

Later Monday evening, Gainesville School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite addressed the Tweet on her public Facebook page, Friends of Alyson Satterwhite.

She shared her concern that Sawyers’ public comments “might lead to displays in classrooms that disrupt or distract others who are reciting the pledge.”

She noted that according to PWCS Regulation 295-1, the Responsible Use and Internet Safety Police, online actions could be considered unacceptable if “such actions disrupt the learning environment.” 

“If it is not ok for a PWCS staff member to post something of this nature, what makes Mr. Sawyers think that as Chairman of the School Board that it is acceptable for him to do so?”

Satterwhite said the issue very personal as there are many veterans in her family including her husband and her father. 

The comments on Sawyers’ Twitter feed remained mixed.

Some said Sawyers set a poor example for students and promoted disrespect. Others said they were thankful to have him in Prince William County. 

One young man said he wished Sawyers had been there when he was a freshman and a substitute required him to defend his decision to sit during the pledge by writing an essay.

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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