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‘Take a knee’ draws protesters at school district building

Protesters rally against schools' "Take a knee" policy

Some protesters feel Manatee students shouldn't have to have a parent's permission to kneel in protest of social injustice in America during the national anthem.
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Some protesters feel Manatee students shouldn't have to have a parent's permission to kneel in protest of social injustice in America during the national anthem.

Lakewood Ranch High School sophomore Brendan Mendel, 15, doesn’t think Manatee County students should be required to get their parents’ permission to “take a knee” during the national anthem to protest something they feel is broken in this country.

I see it on social media. People say extremely hurtful things all the time and it’s horrible to sit back and see it. That’s why I am out here today.

Kalli Johnson on racism

In fact, Brendan’s mother, Bridget Mendel, supports her son’s position that taking a knee is a form of silent protest against social injustice so strongly that she attended a protest Tuesday night carrying a sign that read, “He can take a knee without me.”

The Mendels were two of roughly 20 protesters and two counter-protesters who held signs including, “Unite Against Racism,” Take A Knee Manatee,” and “Solidarity With Manatee Student Athletes,” during a peaceful protest regarding the school district’s Code of Student Conduct rule which requires students to have a parent’s permission to not stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

While many National Football League players have been kneeling all season to bring attention to racial injustice in the country, the school district recently sent an email reminding school athletic directors that students must stand during the anthem unless they have parental permission.

The local protest was organized in part by two students who oppose that view.

Leah Tiberini, a senior at Manatee High School, and Mercury Clarke, a freshman at Bayshore High School, both believe kneeling to raise awareness for equality for marginalized people in America is something so sound and just it should transcend the need for parental permission.

Answer Suncoast, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and NAACP also had a hand in the rally, which was held on the Manatee Avenue West side of the School District of Manatee County administration building.

But the counter-protesters, Sandy Lulu and Yaya Stanford of Bradenton, who held signs that read, “Stand Up For America” and “Stand For Anthem,” believe that the school district should not back down an inch on its position.

“These children need to grow up honoring and respecting their country, their flag and their anthem,” Stanford said. “This isn’t about race, about skin color, about heritage, about country of origin, about police brutality. This is about our education system and respect. When we teach our children division, they grow up divided. And united we stand, divided we fall.”

Kalli Johnson: Racial injustice a real issue

Kalli Johnson, 16, a Braden River High School junior and co-captain of the Pirate girls cross country team, attended the protest Tuesday because she feels something is seriously wrong in America and that taking a knee is bringing attention to it.

“There needs to be a better level of equality in our country than there is now,” Johnson said. “It’s mind-blowing that we haven’t gotten as far as we should.”

“I see it on social media,” Johnson said of racism. “People say extremely hurtful things all the time and it’s horrible to sit back and see it. That’s why I am out here today.”

These children need to grow up honoring and respecting their country, their flag and their anthem. This isn’t about race, about skin color, about heritage, about country of origin, about police brutality. This is about our education system and respect. When we teach our children division, they grow up divided. And united we stand, divided we fall.

Yaya Stanford, on national anthem

“What motivated me was the racism I have seen at my school, my middle school and all of the schools I have been to before in this county,” Tiberini said. “I believe the school board has taken a step too far with the statement they made.”

“Our message is that we don’t stand for racism in our school district or in our country or our communities,” Tiberini said. “Also, we think that protesting and First Amendment rights should be protected especially for minors because they still have the same rights as anyone in this country.”

‘This boy does not need my permission’

“This boy does not need my permission to take a knee to exercise his First Amendment rights,” Bridget Mendel said as a motorist seemed to beep an approval of her sign. “It’s an important message to teach children that they can question authority, that they have the right to non-violent civil disobedience and the right to take part in social justice.”

Brendan said, “I feel like it’s really important to create awareness on the various social issues going on in the country. There isn’t much of a discussion on civil rights in my school and so, by me doing that, it opened up opportunities for basic political discussions.”

District spokesman Michael Barber represented the schools at the protest and said that the district feels strongly about its position that any student can opt out of standing for the Pledge of Allegiance or national anthem as a means of protest, but they have to have parental permission.

“The reason we require parental permission is that we believe it is important if they are going to take a stand like that that they discuss it with their parents,” Barber said. “First of all, we feel the parent should be aware of what is happening and, second, it fosters good communication between the parent and student as to why they are taking that stance and what is the process behind it. We think the Code of Student Conduct is a positive for the student and parent relationship.”

Richard Dymond: 941-745-7072, @RichardDymond

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