DENVER — The students in Vincent Pulciani’s seventh-grade class were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance this week when they heard the voice over the intercom say something they’d never heard before, at least not during the Pledge.
Instead of “one nation, under God,” the voice said, “one nation, under your belief system.”
The bewildered students at Everitt Middle School in Wheat Ridge never even got to “indivisible,” according to Vincent’s mother, Christina Pulciani-Johnson.
“He came home and told me about it after school, and he said, ‘I just stood there, Mom. I didn’t even know what to do. We all just stood there and didn’t even finish it,’” Mrs. Pulciani-Johnson said, quoting her son.
Margo Lucero, the eighth-grade guidance counselor at the school, substituted the phrase “under your belief system” as she led the recitation of the Pledge on Wednesday.
After irate phone calls poured in from parents, Principal Kathleen Norton, who normally leads the Pledge but was out of the building at the time, apologized to students Thursday and sent home letters of apology yesterday.
“The principal called me later. She said she was dumbfounded. She wasn’t in the building. She didn’t approve it,” Mrs. Pulciani-Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Jefferson County School District spokesman Rick Kaufman was engaged in damage control, describing Miss Lucero’s decision to rewrite the Pledge as “inappropriate” and stressing that she had acted independently, without consulting the district or other school officials.
Mr. Kaufman said Miss Lucero had been spurred by the date, April 20, the sixth anniversary of the Columbine High School slayings. Both Columbine and Everitt are within the Jefferson County school district.
“The day was the sixth anniversary of Columbine, and she felt she should be all-inclusive, so she replaced the word ‘God,’” he said.
Mr. Kaufman refused to say whether Miss Lucero had been disciplined by the district, citing private personnel matters. He did say she was still working at Everitt.
Parents said Miss Lucero had been slated to leave Everitt at the end of the year, and Shelley Pierce, whose daughter is in seventh grade, said it appeared that the counselor was clearing out her office.
Her daughter, Bailey, told her about the incident after school Wednesday. “I was really angry,” Mrs. Pierce said.
“Legally, that’s our Pledge of Allegiance, and I don’t think anyone has the right to change it,” she said. “I’m very happy with the way the district has handled it. Nobody’s trying to defend it.”
Miss Lucero could not be reached for comment.
The episode marks the second time this year the Pledge has made headlines in Colorado. In March, voters in Estes Park recalled a councilman, David Habecker, who refused to stand for the Pledge during town meetings.