Mark and Heather Lawrence
Mark and Heather Lawrence

Maybe it’s because her dad served in the U.S. Marines … or because her high school mascot is a fierce-looking eagle … or because she plans to enlist in the Army next summer after graduation to defend her country … whatever the reason, when Heather Lawrence saw a fellow student refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and recite it with the class, the 16-year-old Junior ROTC member saw a teachable moment and took it.

And for that, she’s been suspended five days.

Lawrence’s troubles with administrators at Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Fla., began last Wednesday when she noticed a female Muslim student refusing to participate in the Pledge. The student was wearing a hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf.

Later in the day, Lawrence encountered the student between periods and told her she should stand for the pledge, reported Hernando Today.

“Take that thing off your head and act like you’re proud to be an American,” Lawrence told her.

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Although the student walked away and filed no complaint, a teacher overheard Lawrence’s comment and reported her to school administrators. On Friday, Lawrence was called to Assistant Principal Steve Crognale’s office and her father was called and informed she would be suspended for five days.

“I said, ‘That is absolutely ridiculous,'” Mark Lawrence told Hernando Today. “I thought it was very unfair.”

When pressed to justify the suspension, Crognale said it was because she made a threat, the father claimed. Under further questioning, Lawrence said Crognale “backed off” and said Heather had “caused mental duress” for the Muslim student, even though she had made no complaint. Crognale said school policy allowed him to suspend Heather for 10 days.

Lawrence noted that Heather and her sister stood for the flag pledge when the pair attended school in Mexico in 2004.

“They were in a third-world country and they had to honor their culture,” he said. “People don’t have to do that here.”

Ramzy Kilic, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Affairs criticized Heather’s comments.

“The student should not have said that,” he said. “If she had said, ‘Why didn’t you stand for the Pledge and act like an American?’ that would have been a more-appropriate reaction.”

Kizlic, WND has reported, successfully pressured CBS in 2007 to suspend a Christian television program that had been airing in the Tampa, Fla., market for four years.

Springstead High School

“You have someone in the States who is able to enjoy our educational and health care systems, yet it’s okay for them to be disrespectful, and it’s not okay for my daughter to speak her mind,” Mark Lawrence told the Tampa Tribune. “That’s her First Amendment right. That’s her freedom of speech.”

Springstead principal Susan Duval said she stands behind Crognale’s suspension of the girl, saying Heather violated the district’s policy against bullying and harassment and was disciplined for her “atrocious” comment and not for telling the Muslim student to stand.

“It makes me ill,” Duval said. “That is not what this school is about. These students should feel safe and secure here. We may have differences of opinion, but no student should have to tolerate harassment.”

Principal Duval has experience with suspension herself, reported the Lakeland Ledger. In 2004, Duval was suspended for one day with pay and a three-paragraph reprimand added to her file for plagiarizing a widespread Internet document titled, “Everything I need to know I learned from Noah’s Ark” for her commencement address. The Hernando County School Board’s student code of conduct promises a “zero-grade, detention, in-school suspension” for offenders.

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