Years before San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustice, a Northern California teen was waging her own demonstration that went mostly unnoticed until last week.
Leilani Thomas, a 14-year-old Native American, has been sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance since the second grade because standing and saluting felt wrong, she told KCRA-TV.
“I feel like it's a lie to me in, like, what they did to my people,” said Leilani, now a high school student.
Her quiet protest wasn’t a problem until she and a friend noticed last Friday that their participation grades had been docked. When Leilani asked why, she said her teacher explained their grades had been lowered because they refused to stand for the Pledge.
She recorded the teacher’s explanation and shared it with KPIX-TV. In the recording, a female voice says, “Here’s the deal with that. If you really, really, really, really, really have an argument and feel so strongly about that, then I need to see it written out, like your argument in an essay form, like, why,” the teacher is heard saying. “Why, because here’s the real thing: Those people, they’re not alive anymore, your ancestors.”
Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Donna Becnel has stood behind Leilani, telling local reporters that the student’s 1st Amendment rights were violated.
Leilani and her friend were switched out of the class, KPIX reported.
Following Kaepernick’s protest, other students across the U.S. have faced discipline for refusing to stand for the Pledge.
A high school student in Louisiana was threatened with suspension for refusing to stand for the Pledge, WDSU-TV reported. A Texas fifth-grader told KPRC-TV her school principal called her mother after she knelt several times during the Pledge.
In Chicago, a teacher was disciplined for allegedly trying to pull a student out of his seat after he refused to stand for the Pledge.
Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem has sparked praise and criticism, with President Obama defending his actions.
The NFL quarterback, he said, was “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement."