A South Carolina school district is being sued by parents who claim their 15-year-old daughter was pushed by a teacher after refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Marissa Barnwell, a Black student at the River Bluff High School, says the incident took place on 29 November. Her parents filed a lawsuit in mid-February after several failed attempts to file a complaint with the Lexington School District One, they said at a press conference on Thursday.
The teen recounted being on her way to class when the Pledge of Allegiance began to play over the intercom, according to local outlet The State. When she refused to recite the pledge, teacher Nicole Livingston allegedly pushed her to a wall.
“I was completely and utterly disrespected,” she said. “No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt… The fact that the school is defending that kind of behaviour is unimaginable.”
Tyler Bailey, an attorney for the family, told The New York Times that a teacher had previously contacted the parents when Marissa was in the fifth grade regarding her refusal to recite the pledge. At the time, the Barnwells said they would not force her to do something she did not feel comfortable with and the situation did not escalate.
Marissa stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance back in the third grade after realising that the “liberty and justice for all” was not applied to all, the Times also reports.
“The thing that’s beautiful about America is we have freedoms,” Mr Bailey said. “Students in our schools should feel safe, they should not feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights.”
In November, Marissa was sent to the principal, who said he would review video of what had taken place. She was dismissed and did not hear back from the principal or other school administrators, the lawsuit argues.
The predominantly-white district, the principal, the South Carolina Education Department and Ms Livingston are accused in the federal lawsuit of violating Marissa’s civil rights and First Amendment rights.
The family also released school surveillance video of the ordeal. Marissa’s father Shavell Barnwell said during the press conference last week that he believed his daughter was “singled out” as more students were in the hallway when Marissa was confronted.
“I was just in disbelief,” Marissa said on Thursday. “[I told her,] get your hands off of me and you can hear me say that in the video.”
Despite their attempts to meet with the district, the family says they did not receive the proper assistance. According to The State, Libby Roof, the chief communications officer for Lexington School District One, said the district’s attorney was working on a response to the lawsuit, which would be filed in the coming weeks.
In South Carolina, students can’t be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which is played at public schools every day as required by a three-decade-old state law.
“I feel like something should have happened to the teacher, and the teacher should have been handled appropriately, where she is either arrested or fired,” Marissa also told the Associated Press on Saturday. “But nothing like that’s happened and she still works there.”