Sanity Prevails at Wis. School Board about Pledge in Spanish
The yahoos lost. Free speech and liberal education won.
A school superintendent in southern Wisconsin had been under fire for allowing the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited in Spanish by Spanish students one day a year at Edgerton High School.
The superintendent, Dr. Norman Fjelstad, had even been physically threatened.
And some residents had called for him to be fired, along with the principal of Edgerton High School and the Spanish teacher.
On April 28, the Edgerton School Board met to take up the matter. It ended up affirming support for all three of them.
At the beginning of the meeting, there were about 100 people in attendance, and by the time the subject of the Pledge came up, there were 65 left.
A petition was being circulated at the meeting with the words, “I Support the Pledge of Allegiance—In English,” on it, along with a picture of the American flag. Eleven people had signed it.
Several residents, including veterans, spoke up on either side of the question.
Sandra Moninger, an Air Force vet and a 1987 graduate of Edgerton High, spoke first. “It is not the words but the meaning of the words that mean the most to me as a veteran,” she said. “We fought to protect our freedoms, and one of those freedoms is the freedom of speech.”
Next to speak was Jennifer Malinski, who graduated from Edgerton High in 1991 and served in the Army doing counterdrug and counterinsurgency in Latin America. “I worked shoulder to shoulder with Spanish-speaking soldiers, and I would not refuse a single one of those Spanish-speaking soldiers the right to say the Pledge in their language. I hope to God we don’t do that here.”
But Jolene Churchill, also a graduate of Edgerton High, said that the school was showing “preferential treatment” and “special attention” to Spanish speakers. She called it a “social experiment” and said that it is “standard practice” to recite the Pledge in English. “Many of us have felt the frustration,” she said, of calling credit card companies and ordering products but not being understood because the person on the other line didn’t speak English. She talked about her father being a vet, and concluded, to applause from the guys with the American Legion in the back, “Freedom isn’t free.”
When it was his turn, Al Decker, commander of the local American Legion post, talked about vets who “gave the ultimate sacrifice” in Iraq. “Saying the Pledge in another language hurts the 4,000” who have lost their lives, he said. “The oath should be given in English.”
Calvin Johns, Sr., the district vice commander of the American Legion, said his group stands for “100 percent Americanism” and “we support patriotism.” He said he didn’t want to turn a “nationalist oath protected by law” into a “nationalist joke.” He added: “Don’t take a nationalist oath and turn it into a multicultural tool.” Citing the War on Terror, he closed by saying: “We have got to make sure we don’t damage America from within.”
Victor Gonzalez, the only Mexican-American to speak, cited the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of patriotism: “love of, and devotion to, one’s country.” He pointed out that “it does not say anything about the language” this love is expressed in. He said he was “one of the millions of patriotic Americans” who speak Spanish. Restricting the Pledge to English was “absurd,” he said, asking: “Are deaf Americans allowed to sign the Pledge?”
The principal, Jim Halberg, defended his school’s actions and stressed the many ways the school honors veterans.
He lamented that “the character and patriotism” of the school and its students “have come into question because we said the Pledge in another language one time. Being disrespectful to the flag and our veterans was the furthest thing from our minds.”
Superintendent Fjelstad then read a prepared statement that he distributed to the crowd.
“I have had my voice mailbox filled with messages of hate, bigotry, and racism against the Hispanic population in the United States,” he said, adding later: “Based on the comments I have heard from the dozens of telephone calls I have had, I am convinced had the pledge been said in Norwegian we would not even be talking about this issue tonight.”
As an apparent compromise, Dr. Fjelstad said that “when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited in Spanish for the students, it also will be recited in English.”
And he urged the school board “to state on the record support for the decision to allow the Pledge of Allegiance to be said in Spanish as the occasion allows and as determined appropriate by the administration.”
That, essentially, is what the school board did.
Each member spoke briefly and defended the administration.
Member Jim Raymond made a motion to support the administration in its handling of the Pledge issue so far and the leeway to decide when it will be said in a foreign language in the future.
The school board president asked if Raymond wanted to include the compromise that the Pledge should be recited in English right before or right after it is said in a foreign language.
Raymond declined the informal amendment. “That’s what we hire administrators for,” he said.
His original, unadulterated motion of support then passed unanimously.
American Legion Commander Decker wasn’t pleased with the outcome. As he was leaving the meeting, he was at a loss: “What else are you going to do about it?”
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