By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN and DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Bowling Green School District has chosen to stand up for the right of its students who refuse to stand for the National Anthem.
Three members of the girls varsity soccer team recently chose to kneel rather than stand before a game when the anthem was played.
“They have a right to peaceful protest,” Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci said.
“Currently our nation is experiencing one of the most trying times in its history,” Scruci said during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. “We have a presidential race that is challenging political parties, genders, ethnicities and the very freedoms that the Constitution protects.”
Scruci referred to football player Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers, who peacefully protests by taking a knee during the National Anthem.
“We have unrest in our communities with violence and people and police officers being shot on a regular basis,” the superintendent said. “We have professional athletes using their popularity to take political and societal stands and using their stage to make those statements in front of the world.”
In a video posted by her mother on Facebook, one of the players Caroline Sayer explained why she “took a knee.”
One of her fellow players, who is African American, was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and was “getting a lot of negative feedback.”
That prompted the player to say she would take a knee, Sayer said. Other students said they would come to witness her doing it “to get her in trouble.”
The player took the knee at the next game, which Sayer was not playing in.
“I felt that was so courageous of her, and I respected her so much for it,” Sayer said.
She had her own concerns about the deaths of people of color at the hands of police, so she decided to join her teammate in the protest.
She said she does not see this as disrespectful to the flag or the military or veterans, who fought so she had the right to protest. Nor does she feel police are bad.
“The only thing taking a knee is meant to do is to bring attention to something that’s been hidden,” she said
Scruci said that he personally disagrees with the approach, but added that he respects the rights of those who choose to kneel. The district will neither condone nor deny the peaceful protests. “We believe in upholding the rights of our students and appreciate their ability to grow as productive citizens. We want to help them understand the world and develop a voice to stand up for themselves and others in a respectful and positive way.”
School district officials did hear complaints from parents who felt the student athletes were wrong and should not be allowed to choose whether or not to stand for the National Anthem.
“We had some parents who were concerned about that,” Scruci said. “We assured them that it was their right.”
Some of that spilled over onto Facebook where the parent of another team member said the action was an embarrassment to the team. That prompted a fierce debate. Those posts have since been deleted.
High School Principal Jeff Dever said he supports Scruci’s decision.
“Oh heck, yes. I defended the Constitution for 10 years of my life,” said Dever who served in the U.S. Army. “I don’t agree with what the kids are doing, but I have to defend it. That’s their right.”
Teacher Dallas Black said at least one of the district’s coaches had reportedly told athletes they would be benched if they didn’t stand for the anthem.
Scruci said that coach has been spoken with about the subject. “We want to make sure our coaches understand it. This country was founded under the Constitution.”
“The district will not infringe on students and deny them their right under the Constitution to peacefully protest what they believe in.”
Scruci spoke about the role of Not In Our Town in Bowling Green, and the role of adults to set good examples. “As adults we have to serve as role models for our students but also support them and help them grow. Whether we agree or not, it takes courage to stand up for what a person believes in and to do so in a respectful and peaceful manner.”