)Date: Tue, 27 May 1997 23:30:05 -0700
Honor society must admit student who rejects pledge
By Mark Paziokas, The Hartford Courant, 28 May 1997
NEW HAVEN - A Waterbury high school senior who refuses to join classmates in standing for the Pledge of Allegiance must be admitted to the National Honor Society, a federal judge ordered Tuesday.
In a strongly worded preliminary injunction, U.S. District Chief Judge Peter C. Dorsey blamed "illegal conduct" by Wilby High School officials for Tisha Byars' rejection by the honor society last year.
"Since at least 1994, defendants implemented an unconstitutional policy and practice of punishing students who exercised their First Amendment right to refrain from participating in the Pledge," Dorsey wrote.
Byars is a black 17-year-old senior who says she never has recited the pledge because it falsely asserts the nation offers "liberty and justice for all." Her father, Dennis Byars, instructed her to remain seated during the morning school ritual since she entered elementary school.
Her refusal was not an issue until she entered Wilby in 1994.
"We're very pleased," said Ann Parrent, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents Byars and her family in their civil rights lawsuit against the Waterbury school board and various teachers and officials. She said the Byarses have no further comment.
A. Alan Sheffy, who represents the school board and other defendants, could not be reached for comment.
Tisha Byars had the grades to apply to the honor society in her junior year, but a selection committee of Wilby teachers rejected her. They said the sole reason was one act of insubordination: She ignored a homeroom teacher's order to stop eating corn chips, then left the room without permission.
Byars later apologized and believed the incident was resolved.
School officials denied that Byars' refusal to say the pledge, which resulted in the principal's banishing her to the office for homeroom period, was a factor in failing to make honor society. Dorsey did not find that credible.
The judge said that National Honor Society guidelines "provide that even students who have been arrested or have a chronic record of breaking school rules are not necessarily disqualified on character grounds." Byars' record is clean, with the exception of the corn chips episode, Dorsey said.
The society guidelines also observe that teenagers sometimes deserve a little slack, the judge added. When assessing the character of teenagers, the guidelines say, a "proper regard for adolescent growth and behavior is essential."
If Byars did not commit any more disciplinary infractions, she was virtually guaranteed admission to the honor society at Wilby this year, members of the admission committee told the judge at a hearing this month. But Byars transferred to Crosby High in Waterbury last fall.
Dorsey concluded that Martin Galvin, the Wilby principal, effectively forced the transfer by making her sit outside his office each morning: Byars "was placed in a situation reasonably deemed by her to be oppressive. To avoid a full year of such treatment, she sought escape by transfer to Crosby."
At Crosby, Byars is allowed to sit during the pledge in her homeroom.
In issuing the preliminary injunction, Dorsey concluded that Byars is likely to win when her case comes to trial this year, after she graduates. If a jury finds against her, the school can revoke her membership in the honor society.
Dorsey, who harshly questioned Galvin during the hearing two weeks ago, said the rights of students to remain seated during the pledge is well-established by decades of case law. Galvin has no business quizzing students who assert their constitutional right to sit and remain silent, Dorsey said.
Quoting from a 1969 Supreme Court decision, Dorsey said, "Although school officials have authority to regulate students' conduct in order to maintain discipline and control, students do not `shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.' "
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
Be PART of the solution -- People Against Racist Terror/PO Box 1055/Culver City CA 90232-1055/310-288-5003/Order our journal: "Turning the Tide."
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free All P.O.W.'s and Political Prisoners! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!