The young girl observed her father at the kitchen table as he walked briskly. As he clenched his fists, he grew enraged.
“This is crazy! Who is this woman?” he asked, and she understood his anger. After seeing her grade drop on the board and hearing her teacher’s explanation, she felt the same way.
It was like any other day for 14-year-old Leilani Thomas at Lower Lake High School.
The morning routine started with sleepy teens, important announcements, and the Pledge of Allegiance. The students and teacher stood, hand on hearts, and reciting the words … except for Leilani and her friend. They remained in their seats.
It started as a confused glance from her teacher, but it quickly morphed into an obvious scowl the entire class could see.
However, Leilani remained seated and ignored the reaction. She was used to it. No one was going to make her stand up. It wasn’t a surprise when her teacher called her aside the moment class ended.
“You’re making bad choices,” the woman said, keeping a deep frown.
“Excuse me?” Leilani asked. The teacher pointed to the flag. “You have to stand.” Leilani remained composed, and replied, “We have the right to sit.” What came out of the teacher’s mouth next was shocking. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing…
Keeping the disapproving scowl, the teacher went on to say that the student didn’t have the choice not to sit for the Pledge.
“You don’t have rights. You have child’s rights.” Leilani stood there, dumbfounded. Was she seriously saying they were children and she had the right to control them? But the young woman wouldn’t be pushed around.
She didn’t engage in anymore debate. Rather, she let her actions speak and continued to sit every morning.
However, when she saw her next report card, she noticed something strange. Her participation mark had gone from its normal 5 down to a 3. But before she asked what happened, she started recording on her phone.
Leilani asked about her and her friend’s grade. The teacher said, “You disobeyed and therefore suffered the consequences.” She replied with, “You KNOW why I don’t stand.”
The rest of the recording would end up the final nail in the figurative coffin for the teacher – especially when she brought it home for her father to listen to.
Her dad shook with anger as he listened to the woman’s muffled voice say…
“If you really, really have an argument and feel so strongly about that, then I need to see it written out — your argument — in an essay form. Why? Why, because here’s the real thing: those people, they’re not alive anymore.” He slammed his fist on the table.
Leilani had been sitting for the Pledge since she was in second grade – and no one had given her any problems before.
It wasn’t until this particularly unpleasant woman decided the girl’s situation and beliefs weren’t as important as the woman’s own views on national patriotism. So why was this so important to Leilani?
They are part of the Elem Indian Colony – a Native American tribe in northern California.
As far as she was concerned, the Pledge is to a time of the country’s founding … that also involved the slaughtering of her people. Which is another reason the comment, “your ancestors aren’t alive anymore” was particularly jarring. The ordeal was far from over.
The teacher (having full knowledge of the student’s birthrights) kept at it.
“She says that it represents the military and that they risked their lives for us,” Leilani told CNN. “And I always tell her, ‘Well, my people risked our lives for our land, for our freedom. For our rights.” The father went to the school administrator.
The girls were immediately moved to another homeroom with a more understanding teacher.
And despite a few voices trying to paint the girls as troublemakers, an overwhelming number of staff and classmates had nothing but praise and admiration for the girls. The father also made an important choice between his daughter’s battle and another one far away.
He had planned on going to North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to help them in their fight against the pipeline, but decided to stay and support his daughter.
The student’s first amendment rights are exactly those … rights. They’re not gifts for when they “come of age”. CNN requested in interview with the teacher.
They got no word back. However, the administrator said she could not identify the teacher involved in the incident, because of confidentiality clauses.
“Any consequence or issue with the teacher (is) considered a personnel matter and (is) confidential.” There are a few things that are certain.
There are rumors of the teacher facing charges for amendment rights violations.
The new teacher will be in charge of the girl’s grades. Finally, Leilani will continue to sit, as she’s always done. “I just hope that she (her teacher) understands why I’m doing it. I don’t need to write an essay for her.”