LAKELAND, Fla. — The mother of the 11-year-old Lawton Chiles Middle Academy student who was thrown out of class and arrested for being disruptive has filed a civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education.
- Complaint filed Friday against school board, Lawton Chiles Middle Academy
- 11-year-old didn't stand for Pledge, later accused of being disruptive and arrested
- PREVIOUS: Mother Upset After Son Kicked Out of Class Over Pledge of Allegiance
The complaint was filed Friday against the Polk County School Board and Lawton Chiles Middle Academy. The mother, Dhakira Talbot, is asking for an investigation into the February 4 incident, and is seeking discipline or termination of the school resource officer and principal, termination of the substitute teacher involved, cultural awareness and diversity training of all staff at the school and monetary relief for pain and suffering along with attorney fees.
The incident started when the 11-year-old African American male student refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. The complaint details the student's account of the argument between him and the substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez, where she asked him to go back to where he came from.
The complaint reveals another student who is Hispanic did not stand for the pledge but the substitute didn’t ask him why he didn’t stand, thus subjecting the 11 year old to a “racially discriminatory learning environment.”
It said the family felt it was unnecessary for the substitute to call the office and to remove him from the classroom was “unlawful and unconstitutional.” The complaint blames the substitute teacher for causing “the disruption of class that led to escalated circumstances.”
According to the complaint, the 11-year-old was deprived of his federal constitutional rights and said he was engaging in a “constitutionally protected activity.”
The Lakeland Police Department has maintained the student wasn’t arrested for not participating in the pledge but rather for being disruptive. In a statement, a department spokesman wrote, “The student was asked over 20 times to leave the classroom by the Dean of Students. The department said the arrest was based on the student’s choice to disrupt the classroom, make threats and resisting the officer’s efforts to leave the classroom.”
In the complaint to the United States Department of Education, the student denies being disruptive while walking to the office. The complaint highlights the school resource grabbing the student’s arm in an attempt to remove him from the classroom, calling it “offensive touching”, and stating it created a hostile learning environment.
The complaint also alleges the principal and school resource officer pinned the student against the wall and held his arms, while he asked them to let go and attempted to call his mom. The complaint questions the legitimacy of having school resource officers in schools, stating there’s “no rational or reason to have police officers permanently placed in schools,”and said they have “an adverse impact on African American students.”
According to the complaint, the student was subject to “reprisal and discipline including verbal abuse, threats of criminal arrest, battery and arrest.”
His mother came to the school and the complaint says the dean was going to let the student go home with his mother but the school resource officer refused and said he was being arrested. The 11 year old was in a juvenile detention center for four hours, according to the complaint.
The student has since transferred to a private school. State Attorney Brian Haas said the case was never submitted to his office for prosecution.
Polk County Schools Communication Director Rachel Pleasant said, “We cannot comment on possible litigation and referred Spectrum Bay News 9 to a previous statement.
The statement released by the school district on February 18 said students are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance and the substitute teacher was not aware of this.
“The School Resource Officer (SRO) made the decision to arrest the student. No one from the school requested charges to be pressed or for an arrest to be made. The substitute teacher, hired by Kelly Services, was asked to leave campus immediately…and will no longer be allowed to work at any of our schools. We do not condone the substitute’s behavior. We respect our students’ right to freedom of expression and we are committed to protecting that critical right while ensuring peaceful classrooms so all students can learn.”