About two weeks ago, roughly half-a-dozen students from Bowie High School opted not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
AbryAnna Henderson, one student who decided to not stand, explained, through her mother, that her Geometry teacher was less than pleased about the students’ actions, insisting they had to stand. The teacher, identified as Maria Corazo Villanueva, also known as Miss V, then decided to offer an incentive of extra credit to all of the students who did so.
That inducement didn’t work, but ArbyAnna, a 15-year-old 10th-grader, texted her mother to share what was taking place. “I’m upset at how the teacher reacted,” said AbryAnna’s mother Janique Muckelvene. “She said she (the teacher) didn’t understand how and why they would act that way when she fought so hard to come here.”
Although the protest began with four students, more students joined in. It’s not clear how many students are taking part and if the protest has spread to other classes and age groups.
Muckelvene, who works in Public Affairs with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said she has not taken any subsequent action but added, “I understand that the teacher was missing for a couple of days. I don’t know if others parents complained or demanded action.”
“Progress reports have come out. My daughter said she hasn’t seen extra points. I want an explanation and action. Maybe she (the teacher) just thought that people were going to stand. I want to see if [the] teacher adds actual credit points. I’m not sure if she was actually going to do this. If she does something, then I would take action.”
The AFRO could not reach the school’s Principal Robynne W. Prince and attempts to reach Prince George’s County Schools Superintendent/CEO Kevin Maxwell via email and two members of his communications staff were also not successful.
The anthem fracas began in August, during a pre-season game, when television cameras caught Kaepernick sitting on a bench during the playing of the National Anthem. Kaepernick, 28, explained during a press conference that he was protesting police brutality, institutional racism, and the stark disparities this has produced between Blacks America and their White counterparts. As the season has progressed more and more athletes have performed similar actions.
“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot [of] things that are going on that are unjust,” Kaepernick explained, singling out law enforcement. “There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically — police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and [no one] being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
Mulkevene said she and her children discussed Kaepernick’s actions and dug deep into civil disobedience and issues of race, justice and equality. “Kaepernick was discussed,” she recalled. “She already had not been standing before. When I noticed it was getting into schools, I told them I don’t know if you guys aren’t standing. I want to know to be able to defend you. We have already been talking about Black Lives Matter and Eric Garner since the beginning. When we talked about why, she assured me of the reasoning. I was comfortable with the reasons they gave. The Pledge of Allegiance is learned, taught in school. To actually be aware of injustice and acting on this is what students should be rewarded for.”
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties of Maryland, said students can’t be punished for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem because of Constitutional protections.
“The teacher acted improperly. Here, the teacher is effectively punishing students by saying they can get extra credit if they stand. This means there are academic consequences for something that has nothing at all to do with academics. There is not one scinchilla or shred of doubt that it is illegal under the First Amendment,” said Rocah, who is engaged in general legal work, and focuses on litigation against state police spying on political activists, and also advocates on legislative issues. “One of the most eloquent Supreme Court decisions ever handed down, happened during World War II with Jehovah’s Witnesses who during World War II refused to salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher shouldn’t be trying to coerce students.”