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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida House proposal clarifies 'Pledge of Allegiance' policies in public schools



A reported overabundance of disclaimer notices in a Florida Panhandle county's public schools that alert students of their right to not participate in the "Pledge of Allegiance" has prompted bipartisan legislation that earned its first approval in a state House committee on Monday.

During its final meeting of the 2016 session, the House K-12 Subcommittee endorsed HB 1403 -- by Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze -- by a 10-0 vote.

Florida law requires the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day in every public school statewide, but students have the right to be excused under a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, so long as they have written permission from a parent.

Schools have to "post a notice in a conspicuous place" to let students know of their right to opt out. The legislation put forth by Broxson -- and co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, and Ed Narain, D-Tampa -- would change state law to, instead, require schools to publish the notice in student handbooks.

The bill also clarifies that students excused from reciting the pledge don't have to stand and place their hand over their heart.

Broxson told House members that where a notice is posted in schools became "a major issue" in Santa Rosa County near Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, areas with high populations of military families and an extra sensitivity to respecting the American flag.

He said the Santa Rosa County school district was prompted to require the mandatory notice "in every classroom where the flag appeared," after a parent complained at a school board meeting with a lawyer present.

"Today as we speak, right before you say the pledge, below that flag is a disclaimer saying you don't have to say the pledge," Broxson said.

"Some people believe we overreacted in Santa Rosa," he added. But under the legislative proposal, "if there's any concern about whether they could say the pledge, it would be dealt with in the handbook."

The House bill has two more committee stops, next before the education budget committee.

The Senate companion -- SB 1600 by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- has yet to receive an initial hearing before the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee.

[Last modified: Monday, February 1, 2016 5:16pm]


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