New Paltz School Board trustees’ decision to sit for Pledge of Allegiance continues to irk some

As voting day approaches, an issue about the American flag and school board meetings has boiled over in New Paltz. Specifically, several school board members — including one standing for reelection on May 15 — choose not to stand during the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The fact that four of the sitting board trustees do not stand as the pledge is recited is not news; they’ve all remained quietly seated for those few seconds for at least months, and sometimes years. What may have changed is the makeup of people who attend those meetings. Certain issues — such as racial equity in the schools and financial equity for athletic programs — have helped pack the desks at board meetings this year. That they chose not to stand may not technically be news, but it’s clearly new information in some quarters.

Lenny Zapka took the first opportunity — a public hearing on the budget — to voice his displeasure with the practice. He said that he found it “the ultimate disgrace” and insulting to “the men and women who have given their lives for this country.” He later posted to Facebook video footage of the four trustees remaining seated during the pledge, which initiated vigorous debate in the New Paltz Facebook group and elsewhere on the site.

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“It’s been happening for almost two years,” school board president Michael O’Donnell wrote in an e-mail. “What happened last week was that a community member manufactured a controversy in an attempt to alter the course of an election. The district’s video and the time the video was posted to Facebook clearly indicate this was a pre-meditated act…The full board has been on the receiving end of a significant amount of vitriol (entirely predictable), which will only escalate once your story runs.”

This is not the first time the Pledge of Allegiance has generated keen interest locally, nor the first time it has assumed political overtones. When Sara Niccoli ran for State Senate in the 46th district in 2016, she was sharply criticized for not reciting the pledge; Niccoli explained at the time that she affirms its values without reciting it, in keeping with her Quaker faith.

A New Paltz Town Planning Board member tried to get the oath added to that board’s agenda in 2015, taking the story to Fox News after the attempt failed. Several months of pressure on planning and town board members followed.

As laid out in the U.S. Flag Code, the Pledge of Allegiance “should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.” Military members in uniform are expected to instead silently render a salute, which is also afforded to veterans as an option. Nothing in the code mandates participation, instead simply describing proper participation.

Further, the flag code generally carries no penalties, and Supreme Court decisions since the 1920s have broadly protected expression as part of free speech, up to and including burning a United States flag in protest. There is, for example, no penalty for leaving a flag on display without illuminating it, infractions of which are not unknown on private and public property within the school district’s boundaries.

There are 13 comments

  1. Honest American Tax Payer

    People – you are all so lost in the weeds it is a joke.
    Stop waisting TIME AND MONEY on this!!!
    Stand if you want to stand. But shut up. Sit if you want to sit. But shut up.
    My tax dollars are not paying for you to argue these points, to be indignant about EITHER SIDE of the issue.
    Be grown up, not children, and GET TO WORK MAKING OUR SCHOOLS BETTER!!!
    ENOUGH.
    YOU ARE IDIOTS.

  2. Betsy Ross

    Remove ALL the chairs at the table. The meeting will go 16 times faster and there won’t be any time for protests.

  3. Veteran

    Each member Should Be Arrested and Removed From Position.

    Clearly a Group of Far left Liberal Bums That Never Served in The Military and Hold no Respect For The USA.

    They Should be Sent To Guantanamo By Trump.

  4. taxes are way too high

    What ever happened to no taxation without representation. I don’t have kids and never will but yet most of my taxes goes towards school and the decision these imbeciles make.

    1. Veteran

      Not in public building. In a public service, You stand for the pledge of alliance, same as a court appearance, or your out.
      Try that sitting B/S in court and see how the judge likes it. This is a Public School venue, You stand for the Pledge or You are out.

      This is not some funny laughing Joke.

  5. Debbie Dammeir, New Paltz resident of New Paltz for 28 years and American Patriot

    I am appalled, yet not surprised, at this issue and at the ridiculous email written by O’Donnell, who called the issue “manufactured.” Beside the direction stated in the United States Flag Code, standing for the flag pays your respect for our flag, our country and our servicemen and women. If you have no more patriotism than that, you certainly don’t belong on the school board, in local government or, he’ll, in this country.

  6. Veteran

    This is Public School, You Rise For Our Flag. We Have Sent Copies of This To President Donald J Trump and Jeff Sessions attorney general as an example of why we need very strict laws and more Nationalism in the USA.

    Jail These Liberal Flag Haters.

    Vote Trump 2020

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