- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

WOODBURY, Vt.

No one is sure when daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance fell by the wayside at Woodbury Elementary School.

But efforts to restore them have erupted into a bitter dispute in this town of about 800 residents, with school officials blocking the exercise from classrooms over concerns that it holds children who don’t participate up to scorn.

U.S. schoolchildren long have been able to opt out of reciting the Pledge for religious reasons. But unlike other Pledge controversies, this one centers on how and where schoolchildren say it, not whether they should.

“The whole thing is tearing our community apart,” said Heather Lanphear, the mother of a first-grader and an opponent of reciting the pledge in the classroom.

The brouhaha in the Vermont school began in September, when parent Ted Tedesco began circulating petitions calling for the return of Pledge recitation as a daily practice in the 19th-century schoolhouse, which has 55 children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

School officials agreed to resume it as a daily exercise, but not in the classroom.

“We don’t want to isolate children every day in their own classroom or make them feel they’re different,” said Principal Michaela Martin.

Instead, starting last week, a sixth-grade student was assigned to go around to the four classrooms before classes started, gathering anyone who wanted to say it and then walking them up creaky wooden steps to a second-floor gym, where he led them in the Pledge.

About half of the students chose to participate, Miss Martin said.

Mr. Tedesco, a retired Marine Corps major, and others who signed his petitions didn’t like that solution, calling it disruptive and inappropriate because it put young children in the position of having to decide between pre-class playtime and leaving the classroom to say the Pledge.

“Saying the Pledge in the classroom is legal, convenient and traditional,” he said. “Asking kindergarten through sixth-graders who want to say the Pledge to leave their classrooms to do so is neither convenient nor traditional.”

Miss Martin and school board chairwoman Retta Dunlap said the practice restored the Pledge to the school as requested; preserved the rights of students who, for political or religious reasons, didn’t want to participate; and gave others the opportunity to pledge their allegiance.

On Friday, in front of a reporter and photographer, the routine changed again.

Just before 8 a.m., Miss Martin herded all the school’s students and a handful of teachers, parents and other community members who showed up that day into a cramped foyer that adjoins the first-floor classrooms and told a sixth-grader to lead them in the Pledge. Most recited it; some didn’t.

Afterward, 10 adults streamed down the steps and outside, forming a circle around Miss Dunlap for a heated discussion in which they pressed for an explanation of why it couldn’t be said in the classrooms.

The format should be left to the school, Miss Dunlap said.

Miss Martin said the point of having the whole school gather for the Pledge was to protect children who don’t participate in it.

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