High school football players who want to stand or kneel for the national anthem can do what their conscience dictates, according to Triangle-area school systems.
More than 200 NFL players protested during the anthem during Sunday’s games, two days after President Trump at a rally in Alabama took aim at those who were already doing so. He followed his remarks with a series of tweets on the topic Sunday morning.
There are no policies on the anthem, either by the school systems or by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
It’s much like the rules regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. All North Carolina public schools are required under a 2006 state law to schedule time each day for students to recite the pledge, but students can’t be compelled to participate.
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Lisa Luten, a Wake County Public Schools System spokeswoman, said: “Students have First Amendment rights to express their thoughts and ideas. We cannot compel them to participate in the national anthem, though we can mandate that they maintain proper decorum while others participate.”
Wake County Schools, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Chatham County Schools don’t have policies that address those issues, their spokesmen said Monday.
Athletic directors for both high schools in the Orange County Schools district could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Nor do we attempt to influence our student-athletes one way or the other,” CHCCS spokesman Jeff Nash said. “It is entirely a student decision on whether to stand or kneel.”
The NCHSAA leaves it up to each school or district to address those issues, spokesman James Alverson said. Association officials who feel strongly about participating aren’t disciplined, he said.
“We don’t prevent anybody from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Alverson said. “Our job is really to protect people’s rights, their safety and security regardless of who they are – whether they’re game officials or players. Safety and security are our first priorities.”
Durham spokesman Chip Sudderth said Superintendent Bert L’Homme addressed the issue last fall in a statement that reminded parents, students and staff the district values freedom of speech and expression and protects them “as long as they do not disrupt the academic environment.
“We are working to help our students respect each others’ rights to speech and expression that may disagree within shared space,” L’Homme said. “We will continue to open our athletic events with the anthem to honor our nation. We will also honor our athletes’ First Amendment right to stand or kneel as their consciences dictate.”
In Johnston County, students cannot be compelled to stand, salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones said that the school system will continue a practice started last year on the national anthem.
“Kneeling during the national anthem is a student athlete’s right as long as there is not a disruption during the national anthem,” Peedin Jones said. “Kneeling would be a silent protest and would not be a disruption. It is not something that Johnston County Public Schools encourages, but it is within their First Amendment Rights.”
Tammy Grubb contributed.