If getting the Manatee County School District to at least revisit the district’s “take a knee” rule is considered a small victory, then roughly 12 protesters scored a small victory before school board members Tuesday.
Following passionate “public comment” speeches by Bayshore High School freshman Mercury Clarke, Vietnam veteran Lou Murray, residents Ryan Ellis, Ruth Beltran and Hal Trejo and the mother and son protest team of Bridget and Brendan Mendel of Lakewood Ranch, and others in favor of students being able to take a knee during the national anthem or pledge of allegiance as a form of silent protest without parental approval, school board chairman Charlie Kennedy seemed sympathetic.
“We can have a conversation again and that is the beauty of America,” Kennedy said.
Each year more and more innocent black people are killed in this country. Each year another face and another hash tag race across the screen of my phone. Each year we have more and more reasons to be angry. Each year we have more reasons to kneel.
Mercury Clarke, Bayshore High School freshman and ‘Take a Knee’ advocate
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Although the school board took no action after roughly a dozen people spoke, Kennedy indicated he will bring the topic up again.
“This is a conversation we will have to think about,” said Kennedy, who also hinted that the school district could be facing legal challenges over its position.
After hearing Kennedy’s comments in the meeting, an excited Clarke said outside the board chambers, “I think we will win.”
Although protests against racial inequality have been going on for quite some time in cities and towns across America, they have recently been fueled by many National Football League players who have been kneeling during the national anthem.
In the midst of the NFL players’ actions, the school district recently sent an email reminding school athletic directors that in Manatee County, students must stand during the anthem unless they have parental permission.
It was that email that has caused the local reaction.
School attorney says rule is legal
Although Kennedy seemed willing to revisit the issue of taking a knee, school attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum told Kennedy during the meeting that, in his belief, the school district is on firm ground if it does not change the Code of Student Conduct rule requiring parental permission. Teitelbaum cited case law to back up his claim.
“Our Student Code of Conduct is OK,” Teitelbaum said. “That is not political. That is legal.”
Clarke and Manatee High’s Leah Tiberini organized Tuesday’s protests before the school board.
This is a conversation we will have to think about.
Charlie Kennedy, Manatee County school board, on ‘Take a Knee’
Tiberini was ill Tuesday and couldn’t fulfill her desire to speak, but others filled in for her including Murray, who told the board that he fought in Vietnam with men who died there and who would be proud of the local protesters.
“They died so these kids could take a knee,” Murray said in one of the most emotional moments of the night.
Representatives with Answer Suncoast, Party for Socialism and Liberation and the NAACP also spoke.
During her three-minute speech, Clarke, 14, said: “Each year more and more innocent black people are killed in this country. Each year another face and another hash tag race across the screen of my phone. Each year we have more and more reasons to be angry. Each year we have more reasons to kneel.”
Tuesday’s speeches follow an Oct. 3 rally outside the school board building where roughly 20 protesters held signs including, “Unite Against Racism,” Take A Knee Manatee,” and “Solidarity With Manatee Student Athletes.”
“Students know that they have the constitutional right to take a knee during the pledge of allegiance in the classroom and on the field during the national anthem, with or without parent permission,” Clarke and Tiberini wrote in a news release they sent out last week that outlined their plans to speak before the school board. “They’re demanding that the School Board acknowledge and protect that right.”
In their news release titled, “Speak Up For Student Rights And Against Racism in Manatee County Schools,” Clarke and Tiberini stated that the speeches before the school board were the next step in a campaign to get the school board to acknowledge and protect students’ rights to take a knee.
Kalli Johnson, a Braden River High student and cross country runner, said in the release, “It’s already proven that constitutional rights don’t stop at the school gates. It’s been such an eye-opener that we could be punished for kneeling at a game.”