Tuesday night, High School Senior Sean Harrington openly wept at a School Committee meeting for the second time this Summer. Only this time, his tears were joyful.
"This will be something I will remember forever," an emotional Harrington told a small crowd gathered outside the School Committee room only moments after the Committee voted unanimously to approve a new policy for all of the Arlington Public Schools mandating a daily voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
For Harrington, this was no small vote.
The high school senior has spent the last three years of his life dedicated to this cause, which heated up earlier this summer after Harrington and the Arlington Public Schools were thrust into the national spotlight following the June 22 meeting of the School Committee in which the Commitee deadlocked 3-3 on Harrington's request reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance at Arlington High School.
Though the pledge has been recited in all of the elementary schools and at the Ottoson Middle School, it stopped being recited daily at the high school decades ago and the decision as to whether it is recited daily has been left up to the individual school administration.
Harrington spent three years gathering more than 700 signatures for his petition, which he presented it at the June 22 meeting and the committee voted 3-3. A tie fails.
Two of the School Committee members who voted against the Pledge back in June are also on the policies and procedures subcommittee, which ultimately recommended the new policy. Both have said the June 22 vote never should have happened.
"In hindsight we were out of order. It should have been tabled," said School Committee Member Leba Heigham in a phone interview last week.
Judson Pierce, the chairman of the policies and procedures subcommittee concurred: "I absolutely believe that we should not have voted on a non-written motion that was amended on the fly in the short space of 10 minutes on June 22," said Pierce.
The story went national after Fox News ran a report on the issue and soon the School Committee was flooded with phone calls, e-mails and threats.
Since the infamous vote, Pierce said he and the other members of the policies and procedures subcommittee talked to other districts, lawyers, judges and advocacy groups. He said the new policy - which states that American flags shall be appropriately displayed in each classroom in the Arlington Public Schools, that the principal of each Arlington public school will ensure that every student has the opportuntity say the Pledge of Allegiance each school day if the student desires, but that a student, administrator or teacher will not be punished for not saying it - "Gives the flexibility to the administration of the school. They know the schools best. We don't want to step on any toes, but we want to obey the law."
The new policy passed unanimously after little dicussion. Harrington clapped his hands and led a small group out into the hallway for discussion while the School Committee went on to other matters.
"(The Pledge of Allegiance) has not been said in the high school for 40 years," said Harrington with tears in his eyes. Both he and Principal Charles Skidmore have agreed that he will be there to lead the Pledge over the loudspeaker on that first day.
"I am crying tears of joy," said Harrington. "I promised so many people this day would come and I am just so glad it finally passed."