PINE BUSH, N.Y. (AP) — A school in upstate New York has apologized for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic after complaints from district residents who lost family members in the Afghanistan war.
The pledge was read in Arabic during Wednesday morning announcements at Pine Bush High School, 65 miles northwest of New York City.
Some students were angered and responded with catcalls. District Superintendent Joan Carbone told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown that she received complaints from residents who lost relatives in Afghanistan and from Jewish parents.
The Arabic reading of the pledge has “divided the school in half,” she told the newspaper.
The district said the school’s foreign language department arranged to have the pledge recited in different languages for National Foreign Language Week, which was last week.
Andrew Zink, the senior class president, usually gives the morning announcements and recites the pledge. He said he allowed an Arabic-speaking student to handle the pledge duties Wednesday.
“The intention was to promote the fact that those who speak a language other than English still pledge to salute this great country,” the district said in its statement.
The principal made a building-wide announcement Wednesday afternoon to explain the reading’s context and apologize to students who took offense to it being recited in Arabic. In a statement posted on the district’s website, officials said they apologized “to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful.”
Carbone said the pledge will be read in English only from now on. A state Department of Education spokesman said there’s no state requirement to recite the pledge in English.
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations questioned the school’s justification for an apology.
“When a simple student activity designed to promote mutual understanding receives such a negative reaction and the school in which it takes place is forced to issue a public apology, all Americans who value our nation’s history of religious and ethnic diversity should be concerned,” said council spokeswoman Sadyia Khalique.
The Pine Bush district covers rural parts of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties. Its total enrollment is about 5,500 students.
In 2013, the parents of several Jewish students attending Pine Bush elementary and middle schools said their children were the targets of anti-Semitic harassment from classmates. The families filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming district officials turned a blind eye to the behavior. In November, a federal judge in White Plains ruled the case could go forward.