Gap jeans and American Eagle shirts aren't the only things that are new at school this fall.
Minnesota students and staff returned to the classrooms with a state law that mandates reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. While it was a hot topic in the last legislative session, a polling of area school administrators indicated the law and pledge recitations haven't created a ripple of controversy in the schools.
Area superintendents agree implementation of the law has been no big deal. As state mandates go, they said, this one was almost effortless to implement.
"Oh yeah, that's easy," Staples-Motley School District Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said Tuesday. "I wish they were all that easy."
The law contains a provision stating that students and staff do not have to participate in the pledge, but of the school superintendents who were contacted this week, none had heard of any students who objected or chose not to participate.
Only Pillager School District Superintendent Phil Johnson knew of an employee who chose not to participate in the pledge.
Johnson said students in grades 7-12 recite it as it's broadcast on the intercom system at 8:25 a.m. daily. The elementary schools were already making the pledge a part of their morning routine.
In Aitkin, elementary students have been reciting the pledge four days a week for about 20 years and the older students have been reciting it regularly three or four years. He said that, over the years, only a few students have declined to recite because of religious objections to the pledge.
"It's not been an issue here at all," he said. "Business as usual."
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth, whose elementary schools also had been saying the pledge regularly, said he wasn't aware of anyone who objected to the pledge.
"The transition is very, very easy," Walseth said. "Most of us in America have no concerns (about the pledge). It fits in typically with who we are in this community."
Superintendents James Madsen, Pine River-Backus School District, and David Holmquist of Verndale, said pledge recitations were taking place without any objections to their knowledge. In both districts the elementary students had been saying the pledge regularly for years.
"If they want to opt out they certainly can," Holmquist said.
Pequot Lakes Superintendent Jim Oraskovich said his district's students have been saying the pledge long before there was a state law.
"This is nothing new to us," he said. "Our school has been asking classes to say the pledge on a regular basis forever. In my opinion we don't need legislation to promote respect for citizenship and for the flag. I think it's something we should do as our responsibility."
Pierz school administrators have tried to make the pledge recitation more meaningful by having students lead the morning ritual, Superintendent George Weber said.
In the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District the only change is that high school students now join their elementary and middle school counterparts in saying the pledge regularly, Superintendent Jeff Lindstrom said. He noted the school has a role to play in teaching students the correct way to behave in regard to etiquette. While there may be a degree of non-compliance at the high school level, it might have nothing to do with First Amendment issues.
"We have kids who choose not to participate in a variety of activities because they choose not to buy into the establishment," Lindstrom said.
Little Falls Superintendent Sharon Thomas is a fan of the new law. She said it can be a positive and unifying way for students and staff to start the day.
"It's something you all do together and you remember, not only are we a group (at school) but we have a common thread in that we're all part of the same country and state," she said.
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