POLK COUNTY, Fla. — The ongoing saga started by an 11-year-old student refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and a substitute teacher's response to his behavior has drawn the attention and support of one of the music industry's biggest names.
- Jay-Z, attorney stepping in to help family with civil case
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The incident occurred on February 4 when the 11-year-old African-American male student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.
According to substitute teacher Ana Alvarez’s statement to the school district, she asked him to stand and he told her he wouldn’t because “the flag of this country was racist and the national anthem was offensive to black people.”
She said she responded by saying, “why if it was so bad here, he didn’t go to another place to live.”
She then called the office to have the student kicked out of class, according to her statement. The sixth grader was eventually arrested and accused of being disruptive and making a threat to “beat the teacher,” according to the Lakeland Police Department.
He was charged with disruption of a school function, and resisting arrest without violence, both misdemeanors.
The charges have since officially been dropped.
The family's attorney, Roderick Ford, said they received the written confirmation this week the charges had been dropped. The letter from the Polk County Teen Court notifying the family the case was closed was dated February 26.
Ford said rapper Jay-Z and his attorney Alex Spiro stepped in to help soon after the family heard verbally from the state attorney’s office on February 19 that the case was dismissed. Ford said Roc Nation, Jay Z’s company, and its supporters helped the family secure the written confirmation.
Spiro is partnering with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Philanthropic division, “Team Roc” and is assisting with the case pro-bono. Roc Nation’s athletes and entertainers, including Meek Mill, Fat Joe, Van Jones, Wilson Chandler, Leonard Fournette, and Justise Winslow, all reached out to the family for support. Chandler condemned the arrest on Twitter.
The boy's mother, Dhakira Talbot, said in a statement she was grateful the charges were dropped.
“My son and I are grateful for all the athletes, entertainers, Roc Nation and community of supporters that have raised awareness about this injustice and showed their support – both publicly and privately – during our time of need. Although [the] case has been dismissed, I do want people to know this isn’t just about my son – this prejudice happens to African-American kids all across the country," Talbot said.
"The fight isn’t over, which is why I have a civil rights complaint pending with the U.S. Department of Education," she continued. "At the end of the day, I want to ensure that no child ever has to experience this injustice again."
Case going to trial?
Spiro is assisting Ford with the Civil Rights complaint Talbot filed with the United States Department of Eduction against the Polk County School District.
"Although we are very thankful that the Polk County Juvenile Court has closed the file, and there will be no criminal prosecution by the Polk County State Attorney’s Office, our journey to justice against the perennial criminalization of millions of black youth who attend public schools continues, as a civil rights complaint is now currently pending before the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights,” said Ford in a statement.
“We do not believe that this case needs to go to trial, although we certainly are prepared to try this case," his statement continues. "Instead, it is our hope that the U.S. Department of Education will utilize all of the tools at its disposal to help bring the parties and community stakeholders together in order to reach a fair and just resolution of this case.”