Audience interrupts school board meeting with Pledge of Allegiance

Board members had just approved the agenda when audience members stood and began saying the pledge.

Community members interrupted a South Whidbey School Board meeting with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance on Aug. 25, prompting board members to reconsider their policies regarding the pledge.

Board members had just approved the meeting’s agenda and were discussing whether to open the meeting room doors to make the proceedings more audible to attendees gathered outside when several audience members stood and began reciting the pledge.

Board member Damian Greene was the only board member to stand and join in.

“Please remember that this is a meeting of the board in public, and that is a disruption to interrupt us while we’re discussing items such as opening the door,” board chair Brook Willeford said after attendees finished the pledge.

It is unclear whether the demonstration had been planned in advance, though one public commenter, Larry Christensen from Freeland, said the recitation was delivered impromptu.

“This is the United States of America. That’s the flag that we should all be under, and figure out how we all fit under that flag, not dividing us, but bringing us together. And yet we have now this opening statement about the indigenous people,” Christensen said, referencing the Land Acknowledgement statement read at the beginning of every meeting.

During board comments at the end of the meeting, Greene said that the pledge was removed from the regular agenda for board meetings in December 2011. He commended his fellow board members for their professional handling of the interruption at the beginning of the meeting and asked that they follow up with a discussion about “why or why not we do the Pledge of Allegiance, and where we are personally in supporting that.”

Willeford immediately consented to add the discussion topic to the next workshop meeting’s agenda.

In the board’s previous meeting on Aug. 11, some public commenters expressed displeasure that the board doesn’t begin public meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Superintendent Josephine Moccia said in that meeting that while the board has not begun meetings with the pledge for many years, students in all South Whidbey School District schools say the Pledge of Allegiance in school every day.

The government may not compel anyone to say the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the U.S. flag, as per the 1943 court case West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette.