Steamboat schools weigh new pledge law

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American flags are being hung from the walls of every Steamboat Springs Middle School classroom, but whether students and teachers will face the flags and recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning remains unclear.

A new state law requiring all elementary, middle school and high school students and teachers to recite the pledge every day was temporarily blocked Aug. 15 by Denver U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock.

The controversial ruling has left Steamboat Springs School District administrators wondering what will be required when school starts Monday.

The pledge law went into effect Aug. 6 after it was approved by the Legislature earlier this year. The law is intended to teach public school students to honor and respect the flag. Teachers and students can be exempt from reciting the pledge if they have religious objections. A student must bring in a note from a parent or legal guardian to be exempt on any other grounds.

The law drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law, and several teachers and students in Denver-area school districts. In his ruling, Babcock said the law discriminates against teachers by allowing students to opt out for any reason, but not giving that option to teachers, who must have religious objections. He said the law pits students who choose to say the pledge against those who do not.

Several state lawmakers and officials, including Gov. Bill Owens, blasted Babcock's ruling.

The temporary injunction will remain in effect until a hearing on the challenge.

The pledge, which has been a fixture in elementary schools across the nation for decades, typically is not recited in middle and high schools.

"We have never said the pledge in the morning," said Tim Bishop, principal at the middle school. "But if the law says to do it then we'll be more than happy to do it. I'm going to take my cue from the courts."

High school Principal Dave Schmid said he couldn't remember the pledge ever being recited at the school, or for that matter, any other high school.

"I don't think it's a bad idea, though," Schmid said Thursday. In light of the new law, staff and students have discussed ways to implement the pledge into their daily routines. Schmid said students probably will recite the pledge over the school's public address system each morning.

In the meantime, district officials are waiting for advice from the school system's lawyers to determine whether they will need to recite the pledge when school begins.

Whether the law is ruled constitutional will have little effect on Strawberry Park Elementary School's morning program, which has included a schoolwide pledge recitation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis said the pledge fits nicely with the district's virtues policy, though he understands and will be supportive of any student who doesn't want to participate.

"I taught in the 1960s and 1970s during Vietnam, when we had kids refuse to do the pledge," DeVincentis said. He said he respected the rights of those students, as he will respect the rights of his current ones.

Bishop and Schmid similarly said the wishes of all students will be respected.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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