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Local schools threaten to punish students who kneel during anthem

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  • By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Several high schools in north Louisiana are threatening to punish student athletes if they don’t stand throughout performances of the national anthem, an interscholastic response to a debate roiling professional sports leagues.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana says punishing students who “take a knee” during the anthem would violate their First Amendment rights.

The principals for at least five public high schools in Bossier Parish sent letters this week warning students that they could lose playing time or be kicked off teams if they don’t comply. One school’s letter, which the school district shared Friday, said “all organized student group members” also must stand.

“We want school activities to be about school spirit and about celebrating our students and want to eliminate any conduct that would deter from this,” said a letter Wednesday from the principal and athletic director at Plain Dealing High School.

Dozens of NFL players knelt or linked arms before games last Sunday after President Donald Trump criticized that form of protest.

ACLU of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman said Bossier Parish is threatening to punish students “for peacefully protesting racial injustice.”

“This is antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights,” she said in a statement.

Scott Smith, Bossier Parish’s schools superintendent, said the district’s stance on the anthem also applies to students who join clubs or other student organizations with faculty sponsors. The principals and coaches at each school “have sole discretion in determining consequences” for students who don’t stand, he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is a choice for students to participate in extracurricular activities, not a right, and we at Bossier Schools feel strongly that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation’s military and veterans,” Smith said.

Barksdale Air Force Base is in Bossier Parish, where voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in last year’s presidential election.

“Each day the men and women at Barksdale Air Force Base and in other branches of the military in Bossier Parish and throughout the nation don a uniform and put their lives at risk as they proudly serve and protect us with honor,” Smith said. “The least Bossier Schools can do is expect our student athletes to stand in solidarity when the National Anthem is played at sporting events in honor of those sacrifices.”

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