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Lakeland sixth-grader arrested over disruption, not Pledge of Allegiance refusal, police say

Police say the arrest of a Lakeland sixth-grader earlier this month was the direct result of his causing a disturbance in class, not his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
A Lakeland sixth-grade student was arrested Feb. 4 after he was accused of causing a disturbance in a classroom. However, a police department spokesman said the arrest was not a direct result of the student’s refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, which is not required as noted in the county’s school board code of conduct for students.
A Lakeland sixth-grade student was arrested Feb. 4 after he was accused of causing a disturbance in a classroom. However, a police department spokesman said the arrest was not a direct result of the student’s refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, which is not required as noted in the county’s school board code of conduct for students.
Published Feb. 18, 2019

A sixth-grade student in Lakeland was arrested earlier this month after he was accused of causing a disturbance in a classroom.

The incident occurred at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy on Feb. 4 after the boy refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, according to the Lakeland Police Department and Polk County Public Schools.

His refusal wasn't the reason for the arrest, though, because students are not required to stand for the pledge under the Polk County Public Schools code of conduct for students, police spokesman Gary B. Gross said Monday.

Polk County schools released a statement Monday saying substitute Ana Alvarez was not aware of the policy and "engaged in an exchange of words with the student" before calling for school administrators to come to the classroom.

When the student became agitated, according to police, the school's resource officer and dean of students came to the classroom and attempted to calm him down after he created a disturbance. The dean asked the student to leave the classroom more than 20 times, police said, and he also refused a request to leave by the school resource officer. The student finally complied, police said, but created another disturbance and made threats as he was being escorted to the office. The school resource officer arrested the student, who faces charges of disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence, police said. He was transported to the Polk County Juvenile Assessment Center.

The school took unspecified disciplinary action against the student "in accordance with the district's Code of Conduct," according to the Polk County Public Schools statement.

Alvarez, hired by Kelly Services, was asked to leave following the incident after providing a written statement, according to the statement.

Alvarez no longer will serve as a substitute in Polk County, according to the statement, and the district will work with Kelly Services "to further refine how our substitutes are trained," the statement read.

"We do not condone the substitute's behavior," the statement read. "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."

Police refused to release the arrest report in the case because of the child's age, spokesman Gross said.

Contact Carl Lisciandrello at clisciandrello@tampabay.com. Follow @carlmarks Times