New Paltz School Board members explain why they sit for Pledge of Allegiance

The New Paltz School Board (right to left): Teresa Thompson, Kathy Preston, Sophia Skiles, Alison Eastman, Michael O’Donnell, Brian Cournoyer and Matthew Williams. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

With the trustee and budget vote on the horizon, the decision by several New Paltz School Board members to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance has drawn renewed attention. Each of the four New Paltz School Board members who don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance provided some feedback as to why for this article.

Having been elected last year to her seat, Kathy Preston said, “As both an atheist and a pacifist, I have not recited the pledge in its entirety since I was 12 years old. I respect anyone’s decision and right to sit, stand, recite the pledge in full or in part, or remain quietly seated.”


Sophia Skiles is completing the second year of her three-year term. She explained her position at length. “Up until being elected to the Board of Education, I had not regularly heard the pledge since elementary school. As a standard part of the board agenda, it really made me reflect on its ideas and words.

“I became deeply curious about the pledge’s origins (penned by a socialist pastor in 1891, it included an arm gesture that so resembled the Nazi salute that it was changed to the current right hand on the heart), its use in times of national anxiety (coinciding with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1891 and the Geary Act of 1892), and the evolution of the pledge (the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in 1954 amid fears of communism).

“During the fall of 2016, my then-third grader was beginning to learn the pledge in Spanish and I was deeply struck by the disconnection between the pledge’s words and the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and the specific disparaging of Mexicans, as well as a national call for a Muslim ban. The summer of 2016 also saw the deaths of an increasing number of unarmed black Americans. It was difficult or impossible to see liberty and justice for all.

“The more I reflected on this context and the ongoing parallels to today, the more troubled I felt speaking or even standing during the pledge. It felt dishonest and complicit, it didn’t feel respectful. It felt like hiding in order to conform. Remaining seated, however uncomfortable, simply felt more honest. In no way do I assume to impose my understanding of the pledge onto others’ decisions to stand or sit, speak or be silent. I assume honesty in how others choose to participate in the pledge according to what it personally means to them. I appreciate considering the words and value the pledge’s inclusion on the agenda and in our children’s classrooms. Making time for it inspires me to look for ways to bridge where we fall short of the promise of “justice for all” in practice, particularly as a school board member.

“I consulted with the general counsel of the New York State School Board Associations in September of 2016, who confirmed that sitting for the pledge is not in violation of the board oath, or any laws and is in fact, like a student’s right to do so, a constitutionally-protected form of free speech per West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). I also recognize that while legally protected, sitting for the pledge does not make it socially acceptable, and yet we encourage our kids to act on what they feel is right, however unsettling it might be to stick out or question accepted norms. We encourage our children to be critical thinkers. They learn about historical injustice and they likely see and hear how those injustices and discriminatory rhetoric persist today. As across many K-12 schools, there have been bias incidents among our children. I often wonder what do kids think of when they are faced with saying ‘liberty and justice for all’ every school day? I hope by sitting, I can respectfully create space for any student who is grappling with the gap between the reality and the ideals of the pledge.”

Asked about reaction from members of the public, Skiles said, “I think it does create tension, risking the offense of many who interpret standing for the pledge as an unambiguous gesture of respect for those who served, sacrificed or currently serve in defense of this country. Occasionally, members of the public have expressed that offense at public comment, but after this past week, there has absolutely been a heightened sense of attention and outrage due to a video taken during the pledge that has since been shared widely online. I think social media tends to dilute our ability to communicate over differences and disagreements and often radically fuels them. Despite the viral fervor, there has also been a very measured exchange among some of how the pledge means different things to different people, as well as of the paradox of culturally coercive gestures of respect in the name of freedom.

“One of the factors of offense includes concerns over what we are modeling for our children. I sincerely hope that one of the things we can model is how we approach disagreements and even anger with each other.” She also shared that she has personally reached out to at least one person who left a meeting visibly upset after the recitation.

Board vice president Alison Easton is not seeking reelection this year, and will be cycling off the board. “Speaking for only myself, my decision to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance was not done lightly. I sit because I am deeply troubled by both the current racial inequities that exist in our country, communities, and schools as well as the inaction to address them. As a board member, I’ve worked hard to be part of the momentum to create dialogue and solutions. I do not expect everyone to agree with my actions. To me, patriotism is not about pledges and oaths. It is a definition grounded in service to community and the people in it.”

Brian Cournoyer, seeking reelection this month, also had a detailed response. “I have recited the pledge of allegiance thousands of times over the course of my life,” he wrote. “I also take an oath as a school board member to uphold the Constitution of the State of New York and the Constitution of the United States. The final words of the pledge are ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ That is a very lofty aspiration, but one we have yet to attain as a nation. Over the past several years, as I’ve dived deeper and deeper into the workings of public education, poverty and social/economic mobility and justice, it’s become increasingly clear to me that not everyone in America enjoys liberty and justice in equal measure. For that reason, at this time, I choose to sit and reflect on those aspirations — the promise of America that brings people here from far and wide — rather than to stand and pledge to something we haven’t yet achieved. I respect that some people feel differently, and those feelings can be strong, and they’re entitled to the way they feel. I’m sorry some think my action is disrespectful. That is not my intent. I have family who served, including my uncle in Viet Nam, and both grandfathers in World War II, and I’m thankful for all who do. But I don’t believe the measure of my patriotism is whether or not I stand up, or speak certain words, and military service isn’t the only kind of service. I show my patriotism by my service to this community. I get up five days a week at 5:30 a.m., and work an eight- to ten-hour day. Once a week, with a few exceptions, I go to a board meeting or a committee meeting after work for anywhere from 90 minutes to as many as six hours, and spend uncounted hours of my own time reading and research in preparation for school board work and meetings. It’s all volunteer. And I’m not complaining. I love doing it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be asking the voters to elect me again. I hope people will judge me on the work that I do on behalf of students, teachers and taxpayers, rather than on an issue that’s deeply personal, and that everyone feels differently about. When I sit, I’m doing so in recognition of Americans for whom the promise of America hasn’t yet materialized. That’s the only reason. It’s not about disrespect.”

Cournoyer also referenced how people have reacted to this recent revelation of a longstanding practice. “Until this week, I’d received almost no feedback about it at all, so it’s fair to say that the volume and tenor changed after the last meeting. The reactions have been mixed. I’ve had some angry e-mails, and some supportive ones, too. No one has threatened me, but it’s disheartening. It’s unfortunate that the way people handle things they don’t like or disagree with is to gather their forces and attack, rather than trying to understand someone else’s point of view; and I’m not leaving myself out of that. We all do it sometimes.”

There are 56 comments

  1. Veteran

    How Dare You Dont Stand For Our Flag, Very Very Wrong, They Should Not Hold These Positions.
    Sends Very Wrong Message To Students, Shows No Respect For The Flag Many Fought Hard For.

    This Group of Liberal Bums Are a Discrase to the Public School System probably all on Drugs.

  2. Liberal Patriot

    Drear Veteran, I hope you read the actual comments by these board members. They will make you proud.

  3. the end

    This is why liberals are screwed. They really do hate America. They focus on the thoughts and actions of the most ignorant Americans and decide the whole thing isn’t worth their loyalty. America will NEVER live up to the highest ideals — neither will any other collection of 350 million people.

    Is America your country? Do you even want a country? I suspect not- folks who feel this way, when questioned, usually say they’re “citizens of the world” and don’t really believe in borders (and therefore nations). They feel America’s past and present is irredeemably fallen. It will never be good enough. Abolishing the whole thing is the only solution.

  4. Proud Trump Voter

    This Whole incident So Insane we plan to send a copy of these details to President Trump as a Clear example how some people really have no respect for our flag and should be deported from American soil.

    No way should these Flag Haters hold any public office.

    This is exactly why the USA voted Trump in.

      1. Jail Hillary

        Make America Great Again. Trump Will win Next election, Than Huge Huge Changes coming to USA.

        Trump Will Not be impeached, Mueller is a Criminal same as Hillary, Jail her

      1. Jail Hillary

        So Happy Bernie Sanders did the Alt Right (myself) a huge favor, he took enough votes away from criminal Hillary to Get Trump In.

        Bernie Sanders nothing but an old Liberal Bum, So Glad He Cost Crooked Hillary the election.


  5. Section, Block and Lot

    I liked the school board better stoned.

    What I have to ponder is why the augmentation of The Pledge made, for the first time since the Laws of Moses, God indivisible? Thats a good one.

    1. Taxpayer

      We Dont need Any More Dopers in our school board. We had a Dope Smoking Bum arrested for Dope on the school board in the past and as most Liberal Bums he was removed from board as should these Flag Hating Liberals should be.

      1. Villager 52

        Yeah, well now, the Dope Smoking Bum is an elected New Paltz Village Fire Commissioner and New Paltz Village Trustee. Been so for the last five years since his third and final bust for dope, so, he never left. He controls the Village money for the Morrello pool, the fire fighting equipment, the aqueduct water of the NYC Water bureau, a village bureaucracy…

        1. taxpayer

          Eventually The Cops Will Arrest This Far Left Liberal again. He Should be Drug tested For these jobs. Cops Are Keeping Close Eye on Him dont worrie, we hold great faith in our State Police and Federal Officals especially under Jeff Sessions a fantastic Attorney General.

        2. veteran

          He is Not really welcome in New Paltz, He is a Narcissist, in most of his videos You can easily tell he is stoned on marijuana.

          One day after his next criminal charge he will learn he is not really welcome in the New Paltz community.

          watch his redlicious videos and how he talks down to people, classic Narcissist.

        3. New Paltz Republican

          is this the person who tired to sue the PD ? and Lost, How much did this person cost Taxpayers? The Village/Town should counter sue him.

          If You see any of these individuals using drugs, buying drugs, receiving any strange unusual packages or exhibiting any strange behavior in our community immediately report them to the Police, if possible video tape them.
          We must remove these people from New Paltz, We dont need Dope smoking officials leading our public schools encouraging young students to smoke dope is very very wrong.

          1. Joe Valachi

            Yes, he sued the new paltz police and the US Federal post office authorities.Lost on both..

            As for ratting on your neighbors, forget it. Id rather vote for a dope smoking bum who doesn’t share his dope with me and takes my money than be a sniveling rat.

  6. Steven L Fornal

    Kudos to these intelligent people. They’ve explained themselves well, when they shouldn’t have had to at all. America is about freedom of speech. Don’t tell me I have to stand for a pledge that I think is a pack of lies (six to be exact). If you don’t see the error of your ways (e.g. forcing people to stand for pledge) you don’t understand America. You may think you’re patriots but you don’t understand that liberty requires tolerance of others’ viewpoints and behaviors. Have a beef with the way the above folks think about this issue? Discuss rather than spew your disgust. I mean, who made y’all judge and jury?

    I also haven’t said the Pledge since my High School days. Sorry if you don’t like that. But, rather than get all belligerent about it, try making America the America portrayed in the Pledge. WHEN you achieve that, I’ll gladly stand and recite.

    1. Rebel Yell

      Next board meeting, I’ll bring in an American flag and you can burn it. There is free speech in this country, the flag is but a symbol but your ass would be grass anyways.

      1. taxpayer

        Try It Many U.S. Marines Dare You. We Dare You To Burn Our flag, we dare You, Just make sure to Show Your Face So we Know Who You Are.

  7. An Extremely Proud Army Retiree

    Absolutely disgusting!!! This is the example you’re sitting for the kids?

    I have one word, SAD, I’m done.

    P.S. to taxpayer: add inciting a riot to the crimes

  8. Jiminy Criket

    The author of The Pledge, Mr. Bellamy, was a Christian Socialist, not a “socialist”? Don’t they have encyclopedias at the grade school?

  9. Your Local Assessoer

    This is why Ulster County’s shrink stipulates he doesn’t do meetings, public or private. The world is mad, and you would be mad to try and change it.

      1. Sooner

        Are you aware of your contradiction? You obviously enjoy exercising your 1st Amendment Rights, but you’re clearly hostile to someone else exercising their freedom of speech.

        1. Another Village Taxpayer

          Freedom of speech is one thing, but not when you are spending my money on education, welfare and health for people. Right synagogue, wrong bima.

  10. Ray Bryant

    A Town of twisted people, a large collection of individuals on the extreme left of the political/social continuum. They have no tolerance, They are unable to have empathy for those who believe and sacrificed for the ideals this country was built on. They only need to show respect, instead they spit in the face of those outside their little box. I dislike having to drive through the town.

    1. Republican

      They are lazy bums who dont want to work and expect the govt to provide their needs.
      They want free health care and feel entitled to receive benefits from the working people while most are really scamming the welfare system and should be sent to forced labor camps for their crimes.

      Most bums in New Paltz are fully able to work yet receive food stamps from the working taxpayer, insane programs give non us citizens health care and free food while i work and 80 hrs and pay taxes.

      These bums should be severely punished by the law when caught for welfare fraud.

      After Next election Trump will really come down hard and stop funding these Bums cutting all these insane govt programs for people who dont want to work.

    1. Your Local Assessor

      Believe it. Only one out of every four houses in the Village of New Paltz is owner occupied. That means, as a Village of New Paltz taxpayer, you are subsidizing the other three houses that are rented out but still classified by the assessor as not commercial. Those other three houses all have landlord commercial house insurance, and, are not income capitalized on the future stream/flow of CASH. Everyone one of those houses pays IRS income tax, to some degree, but do NOT pay too the school district, village and town taxes commensurate with the money they are making. That is just the start, too, for it seeps into the town as well, big time.

      Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

      In the hard copy of this newspaper, the publisher quotes Mark Twain to the effect that “God made idiots for practice, and then God made school boards.” Laugh as you will, but ole Sam never heard of unelected fire commission ers acting as village trustees. To make a joke, the Village of New Paltz had a raffle once. First prize was a house, second prize was two houses.

      The next act in this tragicomedy is the Board of Assesment Review the end of this month. The village abolished its assessing unit in 1978, and the town handles it all now. The meetings in violation of the open government laws of the state have been closed to spectators. They are not videotaped and broadcast, and the board members, four out of five, own at least 30 rental properties amongst them. Combine that amount of real property taxes that you are subsidizing for the commercial properties and the amount wasted by this board of the school, and thats the whole budget levy, town taxes not excluded. The Village is not required to exist by state law, and there isn’t a single school board member who could tell you this, and more importantly, knows how to read a real property assessment log. If they did, they would be teaching it in schools.

  11. Bill

    They can use all the words they want.
    That can point to any issue they want.
    It will not change the fact that these people and others like them are not bringing focus to the movement of the minute but bringing down the nation as a whole. We all do and take actions for the benefit of the greater good. It’s the crux of the American system, of a society. The National Anthem is an ideal, attainable here, in America. Impart this dream to our youth, respect its message and the possibility of the message manifesting intensifies. Engage the young to hear the message, to understand the complexities in realizing it and educate them on how they can grow up to assist in making the words in the National Anthem a reality for all within the United States. This can be done, this is teachable. Or, you can just sit down every day in front of a class of students and wordlessly, childishly reject the American Dream and demonstrate resistance as change, not education. These individuals and most of the academic elite are the antithesis of true education and should be removed from their role.

  12. Sooner.

    As stated in the article, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is not required by law.
    No citizen should be obliged to go around proving to other people that he or she is a loyal American. Its absurd. Totally unnecessary. A throwback to the McCarthy period when this coercive, paranoid nonsense began.
    It would be great if the folks on the right gave up the juvenile practice of wrapping themselves in the flag; insisting that you are the only “real Americans.” We, who disagree with you, love our country more than the you folks on the right and alt-right will ever know.
    Indeed love of our country is one of the reasons most of us express our 1st Amendment rights and oppose the blatant fascism that is represented by the alt-right and so many Trump supporters. Its you with your regressive politics, and the jerk-knee call to punish anyone that disagrees with you that threatens freedom: everyone’s freedom, on the right and left.
    Kindly turn off the Fox News, and learn to think for yourself.

  13. Ex New Putzer

    New York is ranked one of the top states for losing higher income tax paying residence, there is a reason for it. Soon the burden will need to be carried by the remaining underachievers with the big opinions and small actions. As state employees you can have your opinions but if you think you are making situations better by being defiant on something that is core to our country and our freedoms…… well once again big opinions but no action plan

  14. Commie

    It’s great that the board members are opting out of a fascistic, nationalistic circle jerk to a symbol of oppression. What’s greater is seeing the dumbest people in the tristate area seethe in demented rage because of it.

  15. Apollo C. Vermouth

    I am flabbergasted by the Alex-Jones-level rhetoric coming from some of these commenters. “Liberal flag-haters?” “Dope-smoking bums?” “Lock them up?” If you post this sort of thing, you’re just showing that you don’t think, and that you resent the very intelligent members of the NP BOE for thinking too much and using words you don’t understand to explain their positions. Standing or sitting for the pledge is A CHOICE. Americans have the right to choose. I know many veterans who sit for the pledge and support the rights of others to do so as well.

    1. veteran

      Sorry Sir But Military Code is You Stand For The Pledge.

      How About You Try Sitting in Court When The Judge Arrives at The Bench, Let Me See You Do that.

      One Could Address This as A very Similar Situation.

      1. Commie

        Well, the “military code” applies to the military, not ordinary citizens.

        P.S. F— the flag

  16. James Branigan

    If they were on the school board in Russia they would be delighted to be back here and stand.
    Their actions are deplorable.

  17. Republican

    Donald Trump is President of The USA.

    Like it or not.

    Politically Correct is Over. Speak Freely at Will and as You wish.


  18. Steven L Fornal

    These comments– rife with hostility as they are –demonstrate the very lies contained in the Pledge to Allegiance. “One nation…indivisible?” The evidence of those lies reside in the comments above

    The lack of tolerance and fetishistic “my way of seeing things is the only tolerable way of seeing things elsewise my hate spills out,” is indicative of the lack of American spirit by those who claim to be the bearers of the American Ideal; THE true patriots.

    The comments here just bear witness to the disintegration of America. The rightwing has felt so unduly put upon by all the new changes over the past couple of generations like gay rights, transgender rights, women’s rights, african-american rights…you know, HUMAN RIGHTS? that they now feel like unleashing their disgust over the fact that they no longer dominate the culture and expressions of morality. Even though America is being more American than ever in these particular areas by showing great toleration of difference, the rightwing bemoan their lost sense of domination over others.

    How dare those people protest in their own chosen manner? How dare those people exercise their First Amendment rights? How dare those people feel repulsion at America’s sense of exceptionalism?

    How dare “those people…”

    Most of the above commenters should be ashamed of themselves. But, of course, won’t be.

  19. James T. Vaughan

    So many delicious tears coming from people who are offended by those who don’t participate in archaic ceremonies. If that doesn’t put a wad in your panties then Hail Satan. Jesus is dead and never coming back.

    1. Commie

      Their anger, more than anything else, stems from jealousy and self-loathing. They will never hate us as much as they hate themselves.

      Also, f— the pledge.

  20. Alt Right

    We will survive the coming small nuclear war. We will rebuild a powerful America of law and order. The America we knew of the past will be gone as our Leaders President Trump and Mike Pence will rebuild a new America that leads the new global USA world.

    The USA will win the small coming nuclear war. The coming world govt will be created and lead by the USA.

    By Strict Law people will respect our flag as the USA Leads the new world.

  21. Ashamed to Reside in New Paltz

    Is this all you have left? Sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance? Kneeling for the national anthem by members of an elected school board? My initial shock and anger have subsided, here are a few realizations I have made:

    Donald Trump IS the President and Hillary Clinton is not.

    Donald Trump cannot and will not be impeached no matter what you hear on CNN and The View.

    Donald Trump will win the 2020 election, but this time with 400+ electoral votes.

    Barack Obama, America’s first Black, well really he is only Mulatto, whose policies were like a bad nightmare, are being struck down, one by one by the current POTUS.

    Obamacare, almost gone!

    Individual mandates, gone!

    I could go on an on about the good Trump is doing for America, and all you have left is to sit for the Pledge or kneel for the anthem.

    According to the first amendment to the constitution, you have the right to do that. But is that all you have? Sit and kneel?

    Well, go ahead and sit and kneel while the rest of us enjoy the fruits of Trump’s Presidency.

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