By John Dundon
Two Copiague high school teachers kneeled in protest during the Pledge of Allegiance in class on Friday before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, sparking an internal investigation by school administrators, the Press has learned.
The two teachers who took a knee during the morning announcements were identified as long-time social studies teachers, according to sources with knowledge of the protest. The incident outraged some in the community and is expected to be among the subjects discussed at the next Copiague school board meeting.
“The district is aware of an incident that occurred Friday morning involving two high school staff members who interrupted the educational process of a first period class in Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School by engaging in a form of personal protest,” the district said in a statement posted online Sunday morning. “We take this matter very seriously, and an internal investigation is continuing to ascertain all of the relevant facts. Please be assured that neither the Board of Education nor District Administration condones such conduct in the classroom in any fashion, and will take appropriate action in response.”
Taking a knee during the salute to the flag became a widespread form of political protest after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick grabbed national headlines last year by kneeling during the national anthem at the start of NFL games to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Copiague students informed their parents of the protest shortly after it occurred, sources said. The reaction was nearly immediate in the community’s Facebook groups, where dozens of people posted irate messages detailing the incident. These posts prompted phone calls to the district from outraged parents.
“Teachers are to educate and not pass along personal beliefs,” wrote one commenter, who said they were appalled at the protest.
Kathleen Bannon, Copiague School District superintendent, declined to comment on the incident beyond its statement.
“The district has received many complaints from concerned residents regarding these staff members,” the administration said. “Because this is a personnel matter, we are limited by law regarding the information we can share about the nature of the district’s response. We assure the public that the district is addressing the matter and we intend to bring the matter to a close as soon as possible.”
Asked for perspective, Darius Charney, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Press that kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is constitutionally protected free speech. Charney wondered how the teachers’ kneeling could have disrupted the class since it is a silent form of protest.
“The First Amendment of the US Constitution clearly protects this kind of protest on matters of serious public concern,” said Charney. “So unless there is evidence that the kneeling actually caused a real disruption in the classroom—which, given its silent nature, seems highly unlikely—the school authorities cannot discipline these teachers for exercising their constitutional rights.”
The next Copiague school district board meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Copiague Middle School was rescheduled due to the weather. A new date has yet to be announced.
—With Timothy Bolger and Rashed Mian