District responds to student's Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit
COLUMBIA — A South Carolina school district said a ninth-grader walking in a hallway was stopped during a moment of silence and not the Pledge of Allegiance, as the student said in a lawsuit filed last month.
Marissa Barnwell said she was pushed against the wall by a teacher at River Bluff High School when she didn’t stop to recite the pledge as she walked to class in November, according to her family’s lawsuit.
A lawyer for Lexington School District 1 said videos from the hallway shows the teacher touched Barnwell’s shoulder to get her attention but didn’t push her.
It also shows the confrontation didn’t take place until after the end of the Pledge of Allegiance — which state law says students can refuse to recite if they are not disruptive — and the start of a moment of silence.
Barnwell was not silent, arguing with the teacher until she walked away, the district said.
“There would be no prohibition on the school requiring students to stop doing whatever they are doing, including walking down the hall, and to remain silent during the moment of silence,” school district attorney David Lyon wrote.
Barnwell told reporters this month she was humiliated and feared she was in trouble.
“I was completely and utterly disrespected,” the 15-year-old said. “No one has apologized, no one has acknowledged my hurt.”
The district said while the principal did discuss the incident with her, a full investigation determined neither she nor the teacher should face discipline.
The district said it reviewed all footage from the hallway and not just the clip released by the student’s parents. The family’s attorney and parents were also shown all videos.
Police also did their own investigation and did not file charges.
Along with the teacher, the teen’s family is suing the principal, school district and state education officials, saying they violated the student’s civil rights and her First Amendment rights to both free speech or not to speak at all.
In a statement, Lexington School District 1 said both its employees and Barnwell are getting “extremely hateful communication.”
“District leaders strongly condemn this inappropriate behavior. We care for all of our students and employees and regret that those involved in this situation have been the target of cruel messages,” district officials wrote.