The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Poway district rejects request for pledge alternative

Our Conscience

Poway district rejects request for pledge alternative

By: JESSICA MUSICAR - For the North County Times

POWAY---- A parent of a student in the Poway school district said he has been ignored by the school board after requesting a patriotic alternative to the Pledge of Allegiance for his child and others like her.

Kevin Cornwall, father of a kindergarten student at Midland Elementary School, approached the Poway Unified School District trustees at the district's monthly meeting Oct. 18, asking for an alternative to the pledge that would allow his child to participate without making an oath that uses the phrase "under God."

He said that while he does not want his child to say a pledge that includes the notion of God, he also does not want her to be excluded from patriotic events. Children are not required to say the pledge.

"There should be an alternative for parents and children who don't believe allegiance should include religion," Cornwall said at the Oct. 18 meeting. "We are not asking that 'under God' be taken out of the pledge, or the pledge out of schools."

After bringing his request to the board, the pledge issue did not make it onto the November meeting agenda. Superintendent Don Phillips said the only way a topic appears on the agenda is if a board member or board president requests that it is included.

Cornwall received a letter from Phillips stating there is "no interest on the part of any board member to conduct a vote regarding any change in the district's current practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as an appropriate patriotic exercise."

"I'm just very disappointed in the process," Cornwall said this week. "To me they've got this big loophole to just sidestep anything. How do we have a board that has procedures in place that allow them to be that unresponsive to parents' concerns?"

While the Oct. 18 meeting is the first time Cornwall formally brought his request to the board, he said he asked the trustees and officials at his daughter's school for alternatives prior to enrolling her this year.

Phillips said this week that they have all tried to find ways to accommodate the student, whether suggesting that she not say the pledge, not say the offending words, or that she step out of the classroom when it is said.

Cornwall said these options are not acceptable because in the end his child is excluded from an activity. He suggested that the school offer a separate class where all children who do not choose to say the pledge can go and participate in other patriotic activities.

"I don't want to exclude kids from developing their own sense of patriotism," Cornwall said. "It is hard to build that sense of allegiance if they have to sit it out."

Cornwall said that, while he believes children should have the option of saying the pledge, it is "educationally irresponsible" for the school to introduce the concept of God, a sensitive topic in the public school system, without explaining it.

Linda Vanderveen, a board trustee, said that Cornwall's suggestion is not viable, because there aren't enough dissenting children in the school to fill a separate class. Furthermore, parents rather than the school should have the responsibility for teaching, or not teaching, the concept of God to youngsters.

"We already have enough demands on our day," Vanderveen said. "I think the fact that we are supportive of his daughter's right not to say the pledge is enough. We accept people's beliefs, we don't make anybody do it, but we also aren't going to not do it because someone doesn't believe that."

Vanderveen added that Cornwall is the only parent to ask for an alternative.

"He just says we're unresponsive because we aren't doing what he wants. We gave him the opportunity to speak, we just obviously disagree with him," Vanderveen said. "We spent a lot of time on this issue.ÝWe do want to do what's right, but we are going to do what is in the best interest of all the students."

Cornwall said his reason for asking for an alternative has nothing to do with his own religious beliefs. Instead, he feels that a pledge that mentions God excludes atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses and others who don't feel comfortable saying the pledge. Children should not be put in a position where they are made to feel like they don't belong, he said.

"My beliefs don't enter into it," Cornwall said. "I want public institutions to be inclusive. I'm saying let's help the people who don't believe in God to be included. That doesn't mean I have to be one of those people who do believe in God."



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