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Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Boy and His Flag

A case from New Hampshire -- reposted from one of my other blogs, Autism Policy and Politics -- illustrates issues of patriotism, civic culture, education, civil liberties, and federalism (the last time is relevant because the meeting in question results from a federal law.)

On Constitution Day, a story about a student on the spectrum raises First Amendment issues
In Dover, New Hampshire, Foster's Daily Democrat reports:
An autistic middle school student had his miniature American flag confiscated by school officials Wednesday morning, as they claimed its pointed top could have caused harm to other students.

Theresa Stevens told Foster's her 12-year-old son, Shawn, had brought the flag to school to show his classmates after receiving it as a gift from a family friend whose son was recently deployed to Afghanistan.

"He's proud of it," said Stevens of the 12-inch symbol of patriotism. "He just wanted to show everybody he's proud to be an American."
When Shawn was asked why he brought the flag to school, he told Foster's he was trying to rebuild patriotism.

"You don't have to die for your country, you just have to support it," he said.

Stevens said she has an Individualized Education Plan meeting next week with the teachers, paraprofessionals and director of special education services who work with her son. Stevens said she will most definitely discuss Wednesday's incident with those individuals.
Co-Principal Kimberly Lyndes said the spear point of the flag's stick was the problem.

"A student came to school yesterday with a flag that was rather large and didn't fit inside the backpack," she said. "A staff member felt that it could potentially be dangerous because of the pointy end and took the item and let the student know and the parent know that they took the item and could pick it up.

"It had nothing to do with patriotism or it being a flag. It was about potential danger and school safety."

Stevens accused the school of being inconsistent.

"So can pencils, so can protractors, so can any of the school supplies that they give to these children, and their stance is, 'Well, we don't let them wave them around in class, and your son has autism,'" Stevens said. "Really? That's your stance?"

"When somebody shows up with an American flag on American soil at an American school, that's his First Amendment right to do so," Stevens said. "Just because he's 12 doesn't mean he doesn't have constitutional rights."