LINCOLN — A majority on the Nebraska State Board of Education expressed support Thursday for requiring public schools — from kindergarten through high school — to set aside time each day for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I think you can teach patriotism and that it is part of the job of schools to do that,” board member Bob Evnen of Lincoln said.
Rebecca Valdez, an Omaha board member, said she struggles with giving schools another mandate but supports the proposed rule.
America is a melting pot of races and ethnicities, Valdez said, and “the common thread is we're Americans.”
Under the measure, student participation in reciting the pledge would be voluntary. Students would be led in the pledge in the presence of the American flag.
Students objecting to the pledge could sit or stand silently while the pledge is recited but “shall be required to respect the rights of those pupils electing to participate.”
Seven of eight members expressed support Thursday: John Sieler, Patricia Timm, Mark Quandahl, Lynn Cronk, Jim Scheer, Evnen and Valdez.
Board member Molly O'Holleran said the decision on whether to say the pledge should be left to local school districts. O'Holleran said she would prefer the board pass a resolution encouraging the pledge.
“I personally don't believe this is the place for a rule,” she said.
She said she has heard concerns from administrators and teachers that the board would be setting up districts for potential litigation.
The board is scheduled to vote Friday morning on whether to set a public hearing on the proposal.
A check earlier this year with numerous school districts found that many, including Omaha, Papillion-La Vista, Norfolk, Ralston and Bellevue, ask students to recite the pledge daily.
In many districts, elementary children say the pledge daily. But a daily pledge would be new for some high school students.
Scheer, the board president, said he sees this as an opportunity for the board to take a leadership role. He noted that it takes less than 30 seconds to recite the pledge.
“I'm not big on mandating things, but there comes a time and a place where things are of such high importance they should be,” Scheer said.
State lawmakers declined to advance a legislative bill this session that would have required the pledge in schools.
Legislative Bill 990, introduced by State Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, did not make it out of the Education Committee.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed, former superintendent of the Elkhorn Public Schools, cautioned board members about rankling senators.
“I think we have to articulate to legislators that this is not an end run,” Breed said.
He said any mandate affecting the use of time in schools should be “considered with great care.” Breed said he was concerned about how high school students would behave during the pledge.
The rule would be added to the state's school accreditation code. Districts that failed to comply would jeopardize their accreditation.
Evnen said the measure's proposed language was vetted legally and would pass constitutional muster because reciting the pledge would not be compulsory.
“I don't think we're anywhere close to the line,” he said.
The proposed rule mirrors language in the 2002 New Hampshire School Patriot Act, a law calling for that state's schools to set aside time for the pledge. The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the law, but a federal appeals court ruled it constitutional.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, which opposed the pledge bill, this week expressed concern about the proposed rule.
“Education requires intellectual freedom, not coerced expression,” said Dave Moshman, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and past president of ACLU Nebraska.
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