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School Committee Unanimously Approves New Pledge Policy

"I knew they had to do it, I just did not know how it would make me feel," an elated Sean Harrington says following the vote.

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."

Jewlzi August 04, 2010 at 12:50 AM
You're our hero, Sean Harrington. Thanks so much. NICE JOB!! : )
James Crouch August 04, 2010 at 11:27 AM
This is the best news I have heard in town for some time now that has come out of the school committee. Great article and thank you so much Sean for your hard work in this matter. You have made this American and Arlingtonian very proud. Jim
Glenn Thoren August 04, 2010 at 03:06 PM
I am very pleased that my home town is once again honoring the flag of this great country every day in all schools. As I mentioned in a few words to the School Committee at the Dallin School on Monday night, it is a matter of respect and perspective. The flag is not simply a piece of cloth, but a "standard' that is recognized by our citizens as the greatest nation's symbol of freedom and the price that has been paid over the centuries for the right to be free. Over my years from kindergarten through high school in Arlington, the concept of respect and and honor was always there. Even in the turbulent times of the 1960s (I am class of '68 at AHS) there was respect for our country in the shadow of the Viet Nam war. Ask the remaining veterans of World War II, Korea, VietNam, Iraq and Afghanistan, "Was the United States and all we stand for worth fighting for? Worth dying for?" I expect you will get a quietly spoken, confident , "Yes." These are the heros and this is the nation that our flag represents. Thank you to the people of Arlington, to the School Committee, and to the administration for doing what is right and honorable. Your decision will echo to future generations. I am telling my grandchildren about it now. That's the Arlington I remember. Glenn Thoren
Seth Minkoff August 05, 2010 at 03:27 PM
This is a sad day for freedom of thought in the Arlington schools. A classroom should be a place where everyone's ideas get an equal hearing. When preference is given to nationalistic or religious sentiments -- and that's what's happening when the pledge of allegiance is piped in on the PA -- then students who don't share these feelings are at a disadvantage. For example, some students feel an allegiance to the world, and not a country. Some don't believe in god. These kids, and others whose thoughts might venture far from those of their peers, will now be given the message that their beliefs are inferior to those of their classmates who say the pledge.
Glenn Thoren August 08, 2010 at 08:54 PM
Seth, If every interaction were to be based on and limited by the sentiments of a few we would have none at all. We are not all alike. Yet we are a nation. Your opinion and mine are worlds apart. Why not live in Spain, Venezuela, Cuba, Bosnia, Russia, Iran, or elsewhere? Why do I thank God that I have the privilege to live in this great country? I believe that you can figure that out. Please continue to post your opinions and your logic upon which you base your views. Then I will be pleased to let the American citizens decide which way we should go. The Arlington School Committee did well establishing this policy, though you may not think so.
Seth Minkoff August 11, 2010 at 03:06 AM
Glen, Thank you for your comments. I'm not suggesting that every interaction should be based on or limited by the sentiments of a few. I'm suggesting that public schools should be equally respectful of the sentiments of everyone -- of the entire public. They shouldn't give special billing to the sentiments of those who believe in god, or are nationalistic. But that's what they're doing when they pipe the Pledge of Allegiance into classrooms. The issue is not whether those who believe in the Pledge are in the minority or the majority. The issue is that schools shouldn't be favoring one person's politics or religious status over another's. If you want to know how this feels, you might try imagining what it would be like for you if every morning they piped in a recitation of an Islamic prayer, or a Pledge of Allegiance to the United Nations. Wouldn't this be wrong? And wouldn't it still be wrong even if most Americans were Muslim, or were believers in the establishment of a single world government?
M.T. February 14, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Agreed. I'm surprised none of this was mentioned in the article.

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