A small Oklahoma school district has adopted a new policy that dictates how students should behave during the national anthem, our affiliate KTUL reported.
The new policy at Stuart Public Schools, which is about 20 minutes west of McAlester, says that students, athletes and spectators are "expected" to stand during the national anthem. The policy specifies that no "gestures of demonstration or protest" are allowed.
"Stuart Public School respects the right of students and spectators to have their political and social beliefs, certainly, and to express those beliefs at appropriate times. With that in mind, all students, student-athletes and spectators are expected to stand during the playing of the National Anthem at all school events, sporting or non-sporting, without any gestures of demonstration or protest.
"Any student violation of the policy concerning the national anthem would be handled on a case-by-case basis, taking into account context and circumstances. Discipline would be measured out according to the severity of the event, taking into consideration the Religion, age, physical and mental state of individuals and any other limiting factor patrons, students and parents of Stuart Public School may have.
"Nothing in this policy is intended to make anyone go against their religious, political or social beliefs. Rather, Stuart Public School respectfully asks that the student, parent, or patron stand in respect of those who have given their life for our country.
"Stuart Public School does not prohibit protest on non-instructional time, in general, but mandates that there is an appropriate time and place for students to voice their support of or opposition to national issues."
Superintendent Tracy Blasengame says the policy was created out of respect for fallen soldiers. He adds that the whole community is very patriotic and a war memorial is one of the first things visitors see when they drive into town.
The policy says student violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but Blasengame says the school won't punish students who don't stand during the national anthem.
"When our policy states that our student athletes, students and patrons are expected to stand, that is simply it," said Blasengame by email. "We have expectations of our students, whether that is making good grades, being polite, courteous, and respectful, or being good citizens. "
Blasengame says they haven't had any push back at the school, but the American Civil Liberties Union says public schools can't legally implement such policies, calling it unconstitutional.
“Stuart Public Schools’ new policy is blatantly unconstitutional and unenforceable," said Brady Henderson, ACLU legal director. "The Supreme Court has made clear that students have the right to express themselves. Our Constitution guarantees that public schools can neither mandate forced displays of patriotism and nationalism, nor forbid lawful protests against injustice. Stuart Public Schools has chosen to violate both of these guarantees. This school district’s school’s leaders are in desperate need of a First Amendment lesson, one that they are likely to receive swiftly in the event they actually attempt to enforce this unlawful policy.”
About 250 students attend school at Stuart Public Schools, according to the Oklahoma Department of Education.