Vineland, NJ – A New Jersey middle school teacher who repeatedly opted to kneel in the classroom during the daily Pledge of Allegiance has been reassigned to other duties during that portion of the school day.
The unnamed Sgt. Dominick Pilla Middle School sixth-grade teacher sparked debate when she began kneeling during the pledge at the start of the academic year, the Daily Journal reported.
During a school board meeting on Oct. 2, several people expressed outrage and said that “taking a knee” brought a political agenda into the classroom, according to the paper.
Vineland resident Ron Maccri said that the teacher’s action was “reprehensible,” especially at a school named in honor of a local military hero.
U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant Dominick Pilla died in the line of duty on Oct. 3, 1993, while he was on a mission in Somalia, the Daily Journal reported.
His story was the basis for the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down,” the Daily Mail reported.
“I was law enforcement for 25 years, when I went to roll call every morning, I had to stand at attention,” Maccri told the board, according to the Daily Mail. “I couldn't take a knee because I was working off of tax money, as she is.”
“If I took a knee, I would be sent home and progressive discipline would go from there,” he added. “If you wanna be self-righteous go somewhere else. Not in our schools.”
Maccri said he respects teachers for the job they do, but that political issues should be addressed at home by children’s parents.
“Teachers are paid to educate our students,” he told the board. “They are not paid to indoctrinate our students.”
The teacher said that she meant nothing “political” by choosing to kneel, and argued that doing so was her First Amendment right, according to the Philly Voice.
School principal Ismael Bermudez handled the situation by “reassign[ing] homeroom oversight so the teacher would have alternate duties during opening announcements,” school district personnel director Joe Rossi told the Daily Journal.
“Like all principals, Mr. Bermudez has the authority to utilize his building staff as appropriate,” Rossi explained. “The district and the teacher agree that this is a reasonable solution for all parties.”
The Vineland Education Association (VEA) agreed, and said that the issue was a “good opportunity for us all to have a lesson on civics,” the Daily Journal reported.
“It is a reasonable compromise that balances a school employee's free exercise of their religion versus a parent's concern of how that free exercise may influence their child,” VEA President Lou Russo told the news outlet. “We requested a legal opinion from our state affiliate and await its findings.”