DOWNERS GROVE – A decision by the Community High School District 99 Board to encourage students and staff to participate each day in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance will not be well-received by some, Superintendent Hank Thiele said.
Board members at their July 17 meeting directed Thiele to craft a statement for presentation at the start of the school year reiterating a district policy that says students and staff “will be encouraged but not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
“Those individuals who decline to participate must do so in a nondisruptive, respectful manner, but may not be subject to harassment or reprisal for their decision,” the policy states.
Thiele said the district must be certain to adhere to the policy.
“To do any more than what we do now, which is invite people to stand up and say the pledge, would put us in a very precarious legal position,” he said.
Thiele said that some students and staff stand, while others don’t.
“Any encouragement to some members of our staff or our student body will not be well-received,” he said. “There will be staff or students that choose to take the other option and rather not stand. You are really choosing one side over the other.”
Board member Michael Davenport said he was surprised to learn a few years ago that some students do not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“You’d assume that after going through grade school and everything, it’s something all the kids do every morning,” Davenport said.
Davenport, whose three daughters attend Downers Grove South High School, said peer pressure makes some students uncomfortable about participating.
“When the majority are not [standing], you’re feeling a bit of peer pressure and feeling uncomfortable,” he said. “Some classrooms, I think, take it a little more seriously than others. I would like to make sure that staff are being encouraged. I just wonder if the staff is being encouraged.”
He added, however, that students should be supported regardless of whether they stand for the pledge.
“I had children that felt odd and were feeling pressured to not do it because they were all by themselves,” Davenport said.
His son, Wes, wrote an article in favor of standing for the pledge in the Downers Grove South student newspaper.
“We feel very passionate in my house about saying the pledge,” Davenport said in a phone interview. “Maybe more could be done to encourage people because that’s what our policy asks for. I think it’s worthwhile to remind our staff and students.”
Board member Dan Nicholas also favors encouraging students and staff to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I personally don’t have a problem expending political capital encouraging people to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” Nicholas said. “I think it’s more important than what I’m feeling some people here think it is.”
Board member Rick Pavinato said the district should make a statement to students and staff at the beginning of the school year encouraging them to stand for the pledge.
“To me, right now, just an invitation every morning is not the encouragement that I think this policy was written to create,” Pavinato said.
Board Vice President Terry Pavesich strongly supports standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“For me this breaks my heart that we’re even having to discuss this,” Pavesich said. “I feel that everyone in this country needs to honor this country because there’s a lot of people who died to make this country what it is, and to not pay respects to that breaks my heart. I don’t see a problem with saying something at the beginning of the school year to our students, also, that this is an important thing.”
Pavesich said during a phone interview that the topic was discussed by the board more than a decade ago. There was a major discussion on what to do, she said.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Pavesich, whose last child graduated from Downers Grove South in 2011. “I think some of this has come from [Colin] Kaepernick.”
A former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick gained national attention during the 2016 season when he protested what he viewed as oppression of minorities by not standing during the national anthem before the start of games.
“I’m happy to do it if the board would like me to do it,” Thiele said. “I’m just not saying it’s something I would pick out of a hat to do on my own.”