As Board of Education officials prepared to receive President Bush on October 3, securing Old Glory seemed to be the toughest task on their “To Do” list.
”We were looking for flags in the classroom so the president could join students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance,” school-board president Ninfa Segarra told the New York Post. “We couldn’t find any flags.” Fortunately, a class at Chinatown’s P.S. 130 had the Stars and Stripes for the commander-in-chief’s visit.
This last-minute hunt for the Red, White, and Blue dramatized yet another inadequacy of New York’s government schools. They grossly lack American flags. That, of course, puts them totally out of step with the mood here and across America where flags flutter from shop windows, awnings, and balconies.
Segarra has sponsored a resolution the board will consider tonight at 6:00 p.m. It requires all New York City public schools to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance every day and at all campus-wide events and assemblies. This, of course, assumes the presence of flags for students to salute. The board “would make every reasonable effort to provide flags to schools that do not have them,” a board statement explains, “with the goal of placing flags outside every school building and in as many classrooms as is practicable.”
This is no radical, jingoistic idea. It is the law. Section 802 of the state education law and Part 108 of the regulations of the state education commissioner require that the Pledge be recited. Segarra’s plan simply would enforce rules schools now neglect.
Revitalizing the Pledge of Allegiance obviously would boost patriotism among the next generation that may have to defend America and its freedoms against those who plotted the mass murders at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania five weeks ago. But Segarra’s resolution also says that “no student or staff member may be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and no disciplinary measures may be taken against any student or staff member who chooses not to do so.” This exception respects high Court decisions that protect Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, and others who would rather avoid this activity.
While individuals could opt out, schools could not. They would have to lead willing students in the Pledge. Schools Chancellor Harold Levy was incapable of even this much leadership when he let each of the city’s 1,145 principals decide whether or not to join a nationwide recital of the Pledge that President Bush led last Friday at 2:00 p.m. That would have been an excellent time for Levy to have told principals to obey the law.
Since the Board of Education faces a 2.5 percent budget cut in the aftermath of September 11, some might object to Segarra’s resolution on financial grounds. Purchasing a flag for New York’s 40,000 classrooms could cost a pretty penny. However, patriotic, local businesses surely would donate such flags if asked politely. The board might speak with Elie Tahari, CEO of Tahari Limited, a fashion design company. Tahari practically wrapped, Christo-like, his five-story headquarters building at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in a custom-made, 52-feet-high, 150-feet-wide Star-Spangled Banner. Civic groups, such as the American Legion and Rotary Club, also likely would give local schools flags or the money to buy them.
Most important, Segarra’s proposal would be a unifying rejoinder to the divisive multiculturalism so common to Gotham’s classrooms. Restoring the Pledge of Allegiance would remind New York’s government-school students — many of them children of immigrants or newcomers themselves — that we live here under one flag, with liberty and justice for all.