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Thread: New SF school board president skips Pledge of Allegiance at first meeting

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    New SF school board president skips Pledge of Allegiance at first meeting

    Oct. 10, 2018

    For the first time in memory, the San Francisco school board bypassed the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of its meeting Tuesday night, a purposeful omission by the board’s new president.

    Stevon Cook, presiding over his first meeting, said he had been mulling over the idea of replacing the recitation of the pledge after he was elected to lead the board following the departure of former President Hydra Mendoza two weeks ago.

    He told only a few board members prior to Tuesday’s meeting, and instead of asking people to stand and recite the pledge, he read a quote from poet Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

    If anyone in the audience or on the board noticed, they didn’t say anything.

    “There are a lot of ways to express gratitude and appreciation for the country and its citizens,” Cook said Wednesday morning. “This is how I plan to do that.”

    State education code requires schools to conduct a daily patriotic exercise — although no one is required to participate, and many schools skip it because it is rarely if ever enforced — but that law doesn’t extend to public meetings, district officials said.

    “Although there is a requirement that schools conduct a pledge or similar activity, there is no such requirement for school boards,” said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

    Not all public bodies recite the pledge before meetings, but many — if not most — do.

    In some communities, the pledge has caused significant controversy. In New Paltz, N.Y., the planning board voted in 2016 to eliminate the ritual at meetings. The board chairman in New Hartford, Conn., resigned in protest after the school board voted in August to require the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings.

    In San Francisco, the Pledge of Allegiance has for decades been the first order of business at school board meetings after roll call, although it hasn’t officially appeared on the agenda.

    Not all board members, however, have participated in it, with some choosing to stand, but not recite it.

    Cook was among those who declined to say the words.

    “We should stand for (the pledge) because those ideals are important to me,” he said. “To speak them is another thing.”

    He said the national political climate is disappointing and the current presidential administration “has been attacking our liberties.”

    In addition, he said he believes the historical context for the pledge has been lost on most people.

    “If you ask 10 Americans who wrote it, or when it was implemented, or why it is how we start our meetings, a lot of us would be hard pressed (to answer),” he said.

    He did that research.

    It was written by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, in 1892, and amended a few times. In 1954, President Eisenhower, in response to the rise of communism, asked Congress to include the words, “under God.”

    Initially, after reciting the pledge, students were encouraged to extend their arm, palm down, toward the flag — a ritual discontinued during World War II because it resembled the Nazi salute.

    School board member Rachel Norton said she initially didn’t notice that Cook didn’t call for the pledge and later asked the new president if he forgot.

    When she realized it was purposeful, she was impressed.

    “It feels respectful and it feels thoughtful,” she said. “Maya Angelou is an alumnus of (San Francisco’s) Washington High School, so who better to start a new tradition?”

    Cook said he plans to select quotes or the writings of a range of inspirational Americans, including writer Toni Morrison, gay rights icon Harvey Milk and novelist James Baldwin.

    “I'm not doing it as a way to seek attention,” he said. “I really think that these people are a great testament to our values and who we should aspire to be as Americans.”

    Replacing the pledge wasn’t an act of protest, Cook added, but rather an acknowledgment that the words of great Americans can equally express U.S. values, like inclusion and social justice.

    “I’m no Colin Kaepernick,” he said, referring to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who started kneeling during the national anthem before National Football League games in 2016. “I’m Stevon Cook.”

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    Seems like an efficient use of tax dollars.

  4. #3
    It was written by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, in 1892,
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