California: Pledge Optional

The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.

The above passage taken from California Department of Education (CDE) code (1) clearly states that conducting of the Pledge of Allegiance is not required by any state law or education code, but is merely recommended as a means of satisfying the requirement of a daily patriotic activity. Moreover, other state code invests school districts (e.g., local boards, superintendents, principals and teachers) with the legal authority to adjust school programs as a necessary in order to meet the "diverse needs unique to their individual communities and programs" (1).

In other words, every school official with responsibility for the education and school experience of our children has the right to determine, for themselves, what patriotic activity is appropriate.

It is bizarre that the state legislature passed the Pledge recommendation law which conflicst with anti-discrimination law in the state constitution (2) and which undermines the letter and spirit of the CDE's own diversity mandates for classroom instruction, "Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content" (3). As an impotent administrative department of government, the CDE cannot declare the state statute recognizing the Pledge of Allegiance as a satisfactory patriotic exercise to be in violation of these laws. It is therefore useless to submit any complaint at the state level. And yet, the good news is that each teacher, principal and superintendent can act, independently, to honor and recognize the diversity in their own classrooms, schools and communities. It is not up to someone else.

Teachers and principals have the discretion to conduct a patriotic activity as they see fit - including an activity that all children can join in.

In this light, it behooves students and their parents to meet with their teachers to affirm and support teacher choice in the matter of the daily patriotic activity and discuss with them the possibilities of conducting an alternative patriotic activity in their classrooms in place of, or interchangeably with, the Pledge of Allegiance.

There is one complicating factor. That is that currently, many schools give the call to the Pledge over the school PA system. Obviously, this situation would seem to be in conflict with the entitlement of teachers to act on their own authority to determine the appropriate patriotic activity for their classrooms. Therefore, it is well worth discussing with the principal whether the Pledge announcement over the PA can be discontinued in order to support each classroom's being responsible for its own activity. In this way, every classroom teacher can engage their students in whatever patriotic exercise is best suited to the diversity of his or her individual classroom and educational goals.

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1) EDUCATION CODE SECTION 52720. In every public elementary school each day during the school year at the beginning of the first regularly scheduled class or activity period at which the majority of the pupils of the school normally begin the schoo lday, there shall be conducted appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.

2) EDUCATION CODE SECTION 35160

35160. On and after January 1, 1976, the governing board of any school district may initiate and carry on any program, activity, or may otherwise act in any manner which is not in conflict with or inconsistent with, or preempted by, any law and which is not in conflict with the purposes for which school districts are established.

35160.1. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that school districts, county boards of education, and county superintendents of schools have diverse needs unique to their individual communities and programs. Moreover, in addressing their needs, common as well as unique, school districts, county boards of education, and county superintendents of schools should have the flexibility to create their own unique solutions.
(b) In enacting Section 35160, it is the intent of the Legislature to give school districts, county boards of education, and county superintendents of schools broad authority to carry on activities and programs, including the expenditure of funds for programs and activities which, in the determination of the governing board of the school district, the county board of education, or the county superintendent of schools are necessary or desirable in meeting their needs and are not inconsistent with the purposes for which the funds were appropriated. It is the intent of the Legislature that Section 35160 be liberally construed to effect this objective. (c) The Legislature further declares that the adoption of this section is a clarification of existing law under Section 35160.

3) Article IX, Section 8, Constitution of the State of California:
“…nor shall any sectarian or denominational doctrine be taught, or instruction thereon permitted, directly or indirectly, in any of the common schools of this state.”

4) Religion Education Code Section 60044(a) and Subsection (b), Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content

Purpose. The standards enable all students to become aware and accepting of religious diversity while being allowed to remain secure in any religious beliefs they may already have.

Method. The standards will be achieved by depicting, when appropriate, the diversity of religious beliefs held in the United States and California, as well as in other societies, without displaying bias toward or prejudice against any of those beliefs or religious beliefs in general.

Applicability of Standards. The standards are derived to a degree from the United States and
the California constitutions and relate closely to the requirements concerning the portrayal of
cultural diversity. Compliance is required.

1. Adverse reflection. No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior.

2. Indoctrination. Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be presented in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief.

3. Diversity. When religion is discussed or depicted, portrayals of contemporary American society should reflect religious diversity.