MIAMI (AP) — A fourth-grade teacher in Florida has returned to the classroom after a suspension for requiring one of her students, a Jehovah's Witness, to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance on 9/11, school district officials said Thursday.
Anne Daigle-McDonald was placed on an alternative assignment, suspended for five days without pay and ordered to complete diversity training after an investigation into allegations that she placed her hands on the student to bring his hand to his heart during the pledge, forced him to participate against his religious beliefs, violated his constitutional rights and made derogatory remarks, according to a report by the Hernando County School District.
McDonald has returned to teaching, but it wasn't immediately clear whether she returned to the same class at Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill in the Tampa Bay area, district spokesman Roy Gordon said Thursday.
Messages left for McDonald, who has taught in the district for nine years, at her home and at Explorer K-8 were not immediately returned. Jo Ann Hartge, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association, which represented McDonald in the district's investigation, declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday.
According to the district report, the child's parents complained to the school on Sept. 12 that McDonald had physically forced the student to put his hand on his heart during the previous day's pledge, even though she knew he was a Jehovah's Witness. The student, who routinely stood for the pledge with his hands at his side, told officials that McDonald repeated her actions during the pledge Sept. 12 in spite of his protests about his religion.
According to the report, McDonald told district officials that she was aware the child did not celebrate birthdays or holidays, but she did not know that his religion prohibits him from saluting the flag.
McDonald said she placed the boy's hand over his heart to show him how to do the pledge, but she said she also told him he didn't have to say it, according to the report.
McDonald also said she lectured the class about the 9/11 terrorists, citizenship and pledging allegiance to the country. She said her comments that "if you don't want to pledge to our country, you should go to your home country" were not directed at the student, according to the report.
McDonald said she wanted to apologize to the boy's parents and that she just wanted all the students to "respect the day," according to the report.