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School Board of Education in California Holds Press Conference

Aired June 27, 2002 - 13:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That controversial California appellant court ruling yesterday making the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional is certainly issuing a firestorm and included, though, in that firestorm, we're hearing from the school board of education out in California.

Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... adopted a policy to teach civic values at all grade levels, and our parents strongly support their children learning civic values and ethics. We were all so proud of the way our students responded to September 11th. Students at every single one of our schools reached out to fellow Americans by doing something to help victims of these attacks. They held fund-raisers, donated books and stuffed animals for children in New York, and wrote letters to families of victims, to name just a few examples.

Last fall, our students held a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of 9/11. And many of our students joined in the rest of the country during the nationwide Pledge of Allegiance.

In addition, we start all of our board of education meetings with a parent in our district leading the Pledge of Allegiance, and we have every intention of continuing to do so.

Our board believes strongly that children should learn civic values, and we believe that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is an important part of teaching civic values. We have a very diverse student population in Elk Grove. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance draws us together, and it helps us celebrate the freedoms that we enjoy in this great country.

Now I would like to introduce the members of our school board. They are here with me today: Mr. Brian Myers, Mrs. Priscilla Cox, Mrs. Jennette Billingsley (ph), and finally it's my pleasure to introduce to you, our superintendent, Mr. Dave Gordon.

DAVID GORDON, SUPERINTENDENT, ELK GROVE UNITED SCHOOL DIST.: Thank you, Mr. Lug. I just want to underscore a couple of the things that Bill said. Our board has pushed us very hard to teach the civic values and the meaning of our Democracy to our young people, and the Pledge is kind of the centerpiece of those activities in our schools. I think it's also noteworthy that as we fight this decision, and we will fight it, as far as it takes and as long as it takes to get the Ninth Circuit reversed.

I think also important to also important to understand that there's kind of teachable moment here for our kids, and that is this, that an individual does get to challenge our laws, and we get in return to fight him in court. But the important part of our Democracy is that we're fighting in court, we're not going on the streets, as goes on in so many countries. And we are very, very blessed to have a country like this, a Democracy like this, and this will make us stronger I believe in the long run.

So with that, I'll open it up to your questions?

QUESTION: Are you taking the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court directly, or will you go back to the Ninth Circuit Court.

GORDON: Well, we are going to need to consult with our attorneys before making that decision. In 24 hours, we haven't had much time to talk with our attorneys, but we'll find the best course for the district.

We all have been, our attorneys also have been contacted by both the state of California and the Justice Department, who are interesting in getting involved to assist us, so we'll be talking with them as well.

QUESTION: One quick follow-up. What difference in your mind does it make adding the two words "under God?" as Congress did in 1954? Do not the civic lessons still convey without those two words?

GORDON: Well, I personally don't feel as Mr. Newdow obviously does -- I don't feel those two words in the pledge constitute pushing religion on children in schools. I think faith is a part of our heritage in the country. Think about how was our country founded? It was founded by people fleeing religious persecution in other countries. So I think the dissenting judge said it pretty well, that it isn't an intrusion.

And I think in our district, we have a very, very strong faith community, which gave us lots of support. And guess what? They understand the line of demarcation between intruding in the schools, and they keep their distance, but they do support us tremendously and they're a great asset to our school district.

QUESTION: ... school district's policy is on whether students are required to say the Pledge, or whether they are required to stand and -- while it's being said by those...

GORDON: Well, under California law, parents have the absolute right to opt their child out of saying the Pledge, if they so choose. And where that occurs, I can't tell you how many children do it. We have to almost survey the schools, but where that occurs, our principals and teachers work very, very hard to make sure that no child is embarrassed, and that they don't feel ostracized. Well, I think they're the cards that have been dealt us, but on behalf of our board and myself, we are proud to defend to defend the Pledge of Allegiance, and we will do whatever it takes to get this decision reversed.

Well, we would expect to have a stay pending the appeal process of this, so that we don't have to interrupt the same pledge, but again, that's a matter we'll be working out their attorneys starting today.

I can't say, because we haven't yet had time to have the conversations.

I would hope it would be, and that we would get to move this along so that there's closure to it.

QUESTION: In the meantime, what are you telling the children today or tomorrow? What are you going to tell the children who else what's going on, or should they say the pledge or should they not, or kids who might keep saying that hey don't want to say the pledge.

GORDON: Well, again, we're intending to keep on with the pledge, and as I said earlier, I think there's a great opportunity for teaching in this moment in time, teaching our kids about what the pledge means, what it means to live in a Democracy, what it means to be able to challenge a law, even if it's it's a very unpopular challenge, that do get to do that in our Democracy. So I think it's rife with opportunities to do it.

QUESTION: You think they may be doing this in the next week, or they may be doing this...

GORDON: I would expect they certainly would be. I've been doing media for the last 24 hours, so I haven't talked a lot to teachers yet, but tomorrow, I expect to.

QUESTION: I think it's safe to say that this is the first time many people heard about this case yesterday. Can you give us a little background about the history of it? How did it get started? Did Mr. Newdow come to you and ask that it be removed from the schools, and you said take us to court, or what?

GORDON: Yes, Mr. Newdow's pressed the principal of the school his daughter attends to suspend the Pledge. And obviously, she said no, we are not going to do that, and then forwarded his complaint to our office, and we also responded to him and said, we're not going to change our policy. And after that, this was roughly two years ago, that he filed suit against us and the Sacramento district, as well as the Congress and the president.

QUESTION: To follow-up on that, he said he didn't want to ban the Pledge, but wants to remove the words, "under God." When he initially came to the principal did he ask them to remove those words, or ask them to stop saying the Pledge altogether?

GORDON: That I don't recall. Well, we -- I couldn't answer that offhand.

QUESTION: Has the child been removed from the district now?

GORDON: No. No. The child is in school.

Most of the elementary schools are year-round and four of the six middle schools are year-round.

This is the next to last day, and then year-round goes off for about 10 days, and starts again July 8th -- 10th.

QUESTION: Have you been able to talk to the mother of the child cited in the case, we understand who does not resolve with the father of the child.

GORDON: I have not.

QUESTION: ... another moment in American history that was something of a turning point?

GORDON: I think again, just like with our young people...

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll try to get back with you on that subject of the pledge and the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. The school board president and director are now commenting about that, saying they are going to fight to end to maintain the tradition of the Pledge of Allegiance being said in public schools.





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