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Muscogee County superintendent says he can’t stop students from kneeling during anthem

FILE - In this Sept. 24 photo, some Jacksonville players stand and some kneel during the playing of the national anthem before their game against Baltimore. Muscogee County School Superintendent David Lewis said by law he cannot prevent high school students from kneeling during the anthem “despite my personal feelings.”
FILE - In this Sept. 24 photo, some Jacksonville players stand and some kneel during the playing of the national anthem before their game against Baltimore. Muscogee County School Superintendent David Lewis said by law he cannot prevent high school students from kneeling during the anthem “despite my personal feelings.” AP

In response to a local activist calling for students and other attendees to kneel during the national anthem at football games played on Friday by Muscogee County schools, the superintendent said students are free to participate if they so choose.

“The issue of whether to stand for the National Anthem and/or salute the American flag is deeply personal,” said Muscogee County School Superintendent David Lewis in a statement to the Ledger-Enquirer issued through Melanie Slaton, an attorney representing the district. “The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined that a public school child has a constitutional right to refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance and the right to refuse to salute the flag.

“The Muscogee County School District respects and acknowledges the limitations that the Constitution has placed on all governmental entities, including Muscogee County School District, and therefore cannot and will not discipline students who refuse to stand for the Pledge or for the National Anthem. Muscogee County School District has no written policy regarding kneeling or protesting during the National Anthem. “

Lewis issued a second statement: “We support and respect our military and their families, past and present, who have served and sacrificed for our country. But despite my personal feelings, all public schools are required to follow the law regarding saluting the flag and the pledge of allegiance.”

On Wednesday, Antonio Carter called for all parents, students, faculty, administrators and staff to kneel or sit during the national anthem at school football games on Friday to protest Lewis’ decision to have a police officer remove anti-racism activist Theresa El-Amin from a recent school board meeting, as well the superintendent’s handling of the Montravious Thomas leg amputation case and his decision to reassign a teacher who used the N-word to a non-classroom job.

“He has created a culture in the MCSD that is not conducive to the overall mental and physical health of Black students,” Carter posted on Facebook. “... He had our elder sister, Theresa El-Amin, removed from the MCSB meeting for merely suggesting that the Board fire him!”

Carter encouraged students to participate in the protest only after they’ve discussed it with their parents.

Lewis, who was out of town Wednesday, responded in an email sent by Slaton: “In response to the criticism, my focus remains on providing a quality education for all students enrolled in the Muscogee County School District.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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