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Author Topic: Flap over flag, hijab leads to suspension of Hernando student  (Read 688 times)
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« on: Sep 01, 2009 03:21 PM »


Read this story, then the follow up story....

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http://www.tampabay.com//news/education/k12/flap-over-flag-hijab-leads-to-suspension-of-hernando-student/1032014
 
Flag flap flares at school
By Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Published Friday, August 28, 2009


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SPRING HILL — Heather Lawrence didn't know the name of the girl with the Muslim head covering, or where she was from.

But as Lawrence walked by a classroom at Springstead High School on Wednesday, the 16-year-old junior did know one thing: The girl wasn't standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Lawrence, an JROTC member who plans to enlist in the Army next summer, says she was aghast.

"That's one of the most disrespectful things you can do," Lawrence recalled Friday. "Even the kids who are anarchists, who hate our government, still have respect to stand."

A few bells later, Lawrence was on her way to English class when she saw the girl wearing a hijab in the hallway. Lawrence confronted her.

She told her she should stand for the pledge. And, according to Lawrence's own account and a school referral on the incident, said, "Take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American."

A teacher overheard the encounter. Now Lawrence is serving a five-day, out-of-school suspension, and her parents are considering legal action.

"You have someone in the States who is able to enjoy our educational and health care systems, yet it's okay for them to be disrespectful, and it's not okay for my daughter to speak her mind," said Mark Lawrence, Heather's father. "That's her First Amendment right. That's her freedom of speech."

Springstead principal Susan Duval said school officials stand behind the punishment. Heather Lawrence violated the district's policy against bullying and harassment, Duval said. She was disciplined not for telling the girl to stand, but for her other comments — comments that Duval called atrocious.

"It makes me ill," she said. "That is not what this school is about. These students should feel safe and secure here. We may have differences of opinion, but no student should have to tolerate harassment."

After the incident, Lawrence was asked by a school staffer why she confronted the girl. "She began to rant that she was enlisting and was going to Iraq and that basically because the girl looks Middle Eastern, that makes her an enemy because all Iraqis are Middle Eastern," according to the referral signed by assistant principal Stephen Crognale.

Lawrence denies she said that or feels that way.

"Terrorists, regardless of who they are, what color they are, are the enemy," she said.

School officials would not disclose the identity of the girl. Duval said she wasn't sure if the girl is new to Springstead or why she didn't stand for the pledge.

Lawrence said the girl did not respond to her and simply walked away. Duval said the girl did not complain to school officials. Efforts by the St. Petersburg Times to find and reach her were unsuccessful Friday.

As she served her first day of suspension, Lawrence admitted Friday that telling the girl to take off her hijab was "a little over the edge." Her father agreed she shouldn't have said it.

"It wasn't meant to be a racial comment, and I wasn't trying to bash her religion," she said. "I didn't expect her to say (the pledge). I just expect her to stand up for it. If she had a problem with what I said, I'd be happy to apologize to her."

Mark Lawrence says the district needs to be taken to task for putting words into his daughter's mouth. He hopes to reverse the suspension and says he's talked to a lawyer friend of the family.

"I didn't raise my daughters to be prejudiced," he said, adding that the family dines often with friends of Iranian descent.

Heather Lawrence has her own unpleasant pledge memory.

She spent six months in Mexico while her father worked a contracting job and was booted out of a private school for not saying the pledge to the Mexican flag. But that was in Spanish — a language she doesn't know — and so she stopped trying to fake it. And, she says, she still stood up.

Flaps over flag pledging have set legal precedent. A 17-year-old junior at Boynton Beach High School refused to stand for the pledge and was removed from class, prompting a lawsuit and a ruling last year by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court struck down a provision of Florida law requiring civilians to stand for the pledge.

Ramzy Kiliç, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was concerned by Heather Lawrence's apparent cultural insensitivity.

But he also said he was surprised to hear that a Muslim would not stand for the pledge. There is no tenet in the religion that encourages Muslims not to do so. "That's her right," Kiliç said. "I myself believe she should have stood."

Still, Kiliç said he was happy to hear that Lawrence was willing to say she was sorry.

"A public school reflects the demographics of America," he said. "We have to foster that, and one way to do that is for the girl to apologize. That should be the ultimate solution."

The hijab clearly made the girl a target, said Dr. Adel Eldin, a Brooksville cardiologist who practices in Spring Hill.

Eldin, who has been busy in August celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said he hopes school officials will seize the incident as a teachable moment about his faith.

"If the principal would like to sponsor an educational night, I would be happy to talk to the kids," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431. Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report.


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« Reply #1 on: Sep 01, 2009 03:45 PM »

http://blogs.tampabay.com/talk/2009/08/was-suspension-fair-for-student-who-spoke-out-about-pledge-of-allegiance.html

August 31, 2009
Was suspension fair for teen who confronted Muslim student over Pledge of Allegiance?
UPDATE: The JROTC member at Springstead High School who said she confronted a Muslim student last week because the girl did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance fabricated that part of the story, school officials said Monday.

Heather Lawrence, a 16-year-old junior at the school, has said she was walking by another homeroom Wednesday morning when she saw a girl with the traditional Muslim head scarf sitting during the pledge.

Later, Lawrence said she confronted the girl, told her she should stand during the pledge and, according to her own account and a school report, said, "Take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American."

A teacher witnessed the confrontation and Lawrence was suspended for violating the district's policy against bullying and harassment.

But Lawrence could not have seen what she said she saw, Springstead principal Susan Duval said Monday.

Tampabay.com readers have posted more than 215 comments on the original story, many angry with Lawrence's actions, others calling the treatment too harsh. What do you think? Tell us which reader comment you support or share your comments below.



Free speech is what guarantees the right of any individual not to pledge allegiance to the flag.
Three cheers for (the student) Heather Lawrence.
I am an American and I also do not pledge.
The punishment did not fit the crime.

Photo: Will Vragovic | Times

Posted by Karen McAllister at 11:39:04 AM on August 31, 2009
in Join the conversation , Readers react | Permalink

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« Reply #2 on: Sep 01, 2009 03:48 PM »

http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/hernando-student-lied-about-seeing-muslim-student-sit-during-pledge/1032571

Hernando student lied about seeing Muslim student sit during Pledge, officials say
By Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Published Monday, August 31, 2009


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SPRING HILL — The JROTC member at Springstead High School who said she confronted a Muslim student last week because the girl did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance fabricated that part of the story, school officials said Monday.

Heather Lawrence, a 16-year-old junior at the school, has said she was walking by another homeroom Wednesday morning when she saw a girl with the traditional Muslim head scarf sitting during the pledge.

Later, Lawrence said she confronted the girl, told her she should stand during the pledge and, according to her own account and a school report, said, "Take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American."

A teacher witnessed the confrontation and Lawrence was suspended for five days for violating the district's policy against bullying and harassment. The suspension has since been reduced to three days.

But Lawrence could not have seen what she said she saw, Springstead principal Susan Duval said Monday.

"This girl lied," Duval said. "I have confirmed with the homeroom teacher the young lady stood for the pledge."

The girl and her parents also insist she was standing, Duval said.

And Lawrence never left her own homeroom, according to her teacher, Duval said.

Duval said Lawrence claimed she was asked to take the homeroom attendance count to the office. But Duval said her homeroom teacher disputes that.

"She never left homeroom," Duval said.

"She's compounded the story as an explanation as to why she felt it was OK to make a very disparaging comment to this young lady," Duval said.

Mark Lawrence, reached by phone on Monday, defended his daughter.

"My daughter told me what she saw and I stand by what my daughter saw," Mark Lawrence said. "I think (school officials) are trying to do some damage control."

He noted that after a conference Monday, his daughter's suspension was reduced to three days. She will return to school Wednesday.

Duval said that's because school officials often reduce punishments when there has been a successful parent conference. Mark Lawrence refused last week to sign his daughter's referral. He did this morning, Duval said.

And no harsher punishment for lying? "I'm trying to get this resolved and move on," Duval replied.

After the incident, Lawrence was asked by a teacher why she confronted the girl.

"She began to rant that she was enlisting and was going to Iraq and that basically because the girl looks Middle Eastern, that makes her an enemy because all Iraqis are Middle Eastern," according to the referral signed by assistant principal Stephen Crognale.

Lawrence, who says she plans to enlist in the Army, denied Friday she said that or feels that way. She told the St. Petersburg Times that telling the student to take off her hijab was a little "over the edge" and that she would consider apologizing.

That apology is also part of Lawrence's discipline, assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson said Monday.

"My understanding is there will be communication to iron this thing out," Jackson said.

The story, reported by the Times and other local media on Friday, went viral, prompting conservative bloggers to praise Lawrence for speaking her mind and bashing school officials for quelling her free speech rights.

Duval said the school has received calls from angry people who have "abused" her staff.

School officials would not release the identity of the Muslim student or any other facts about her. Duval did confirm the girl is new to Springstead this year.

Ahmed Bedier, president of the Human Rights Council and a personal friend of the family was relaying a request by the Times for comment this afternoon. But the family is reluctant to go on record with the media, he said.

On Saturday, the Muslim girl's father found his daughter reading online news stories about the incident and the comments from readers, Bedier said.

"She was crying," Bedier said. "She said, 'I didn't do anything wrong. Why are these people saying all these horrible things?'"

"To her, somebody made a mean comment and she just kept walking," Bedier said. She never expected any of this to happen."

The story is troublesome because it has stoked negative feelings toward Muslims among some Americans, Bedier said.

"There are some very known anti-Muslim blogs and Web sites and they're taking up this cause of Heather Lawrence," he said. This girl got caught bullying someone else, and to deflect it she's making it about patriotism and the flag.

Major Dennis Jolissaint of Springstead's JROTC program would not comment specifically on Lawrence's case this afternoon. But any JROTC member given out-of-school suspension is automatically barred from taking part in JROTC extracurricular activities for 60 days, Jolissaint said.

"We hold our students to a higher standard than the school population," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.



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Your heart will not truly open until you understand Surah 21 : Verse 92  (Al-Anbiya: The Prophets)

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