New state and local laws impact students | SteamboatToday.com

New state and local laws impact students

Teens discuss mandatory Pledge of Allegiance, student drug testing

Autumn Phillips

In the past month, teens have appeared in the newspapers, thrust into the spotlight by new rules regulating the way they act.

On Aug. 6, a state law went into effect requiring all elementary, middle school and high school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

A week later, Denver U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock temporarily blocked the law, challenging its constitutionality.

On Aug. 20, the Hayden Board of Education voted to require mandatory, random drug testing for any Hayden High School student who chooses to leave campus for lunch.

Teen Style staff members Lia Kozatch, Rachel Mick, Meghan McNamara and Stephanie Engle met Sept. 10 to discuss their role and their rights in the changing legal landscape of their lives.

After much discussion, they concluded that requiring students to recite the pledge was unconstitutional and a violation of their personal belief systems.

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“I strongly disagree with the (state’s decision to require the pledge). It’s a violation of church and state, asking me to say ‘under God’ at school,” Engle said. “Public school is a mix of people from all backgrounds. This law would violate many people’s religious beliefs.”

According to an article (“Steamboat schools weigh new pledge law”) published in the Aug. 22 Steamboat Today, the new law is intended to teach public school students to honor and respect the flag. Teachers and students can be exempted from reciting the pledge if they have religious objections. A student must bring a note from a parent or legal guardian to be exempted on any other grounds.

“What if your parents won’t write a note? Or what if you aren’t a citizen?” Engle said. The new pledge law has the potential to pit students against each other, she said. “You would feel out of place if you are not saying it.”

The pledge law is another ripple reaching us from the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, they said.

“I’m grateful for living in this country,” McNamara said. “I would say the pledge, but you shouldn’t be forced to be patriotic.”

Engle agreed that freedom of speech is a big part of being American.

“I don’t have to agree with the government,” she said. “By them forcing us to say the pledge, they are taking away our rights.”

Kozatch said that she would choose not to say the pledge if the law is passed.

“I don’t believe what it says,” she said. “I said it on Sept. 11 because that was a day when America needed to come together, but now, after seeing what happened since then with the war, I don’t believe it anymore.

“I disagree with our government. I disagree with the war. I disagree with a lot of the decisions that Bush has been making.”

Though the Teen Style staff unanimously agreed the pledge law was a violation of their rights, they seemed to feel differently about the drug testing decision made in Hayden.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” McNamara said. “If you don’t do drugs, you have nothing to hide. If you want an open campus, then you should submit to it.”

Engle could see both sides.

On one hand, an open campus is not necessarily a right. It is a privilege, she said. But “I can see how (drug testing) is an invasion of privacy.” She also could see it as potential for profiling certain students.

Kozatch, who was doing research for a story about “knowing your rights,” attended a public meeting in Hayden where the drug testing policy was discussed.

“With random testing it gets more complicated,” she said. “There is potential for profiling, and people asked about that. It’s less likely to happen at a small school like Hayden, but it would never work at a larger school like Steamboat.”

Kozatch did not feel that random drug testing in Hayden was a violation of rights.

First, the parents are allowed to be there. Second, the students have to sign an agreement if they want to leave campus, she said. In the situation in Hayden, students get a choice. In Steamboat’s pledge law situation, they don’t have a choice, she said. “With the pledge, it’s all or nothing.”

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphilips@steamboatpilot.com