School Committee talks Pledge of Allegiance for meetings

Should the School Committee recite the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting? Superintendent Anna Nolin thinks so.

“Many school systems actually have their students come in—local Boy Scouts and other groups—and lead it, so we can talk about how to do that, if we want to do that,” Nolin said. “Just a nice tradition that most of our government meetings begin with.”

The committee discussed the idea at a recent meeting, with Nolin noting that the Newton City Council recites the pledge before each meeting, and public schools are required—by state law—to have students recite the pledge at the start of each day.

Massachusetts law requires school committees to provide United States flags for all public schools within their communities and requires each teacher to lead their first class (or homeroom period class) in the Pledge of Allegiance.

There’s no law requiring local government bodies to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings, but it’s a typical practice in many communities, including for school board meetings.

The plan was met with some push-back.

“While I grew up saying the pledge—I can even say it in French, due to a first period AP French class, I’m conscious of the fact that there might be some members, whether now or in the future, who would have a different viewpoint,” School Committee member Tamika Olszewski said.

The law allows individuals to opt out of the pledge and stay seated, and Nolin said that would be the protocol for committee members as well.

Committee member Rajeev Parlikar asked why the committee hasn’t been reciting the pledge all along if it’s common in other cities and towns.

“I don’t know,” Nolin answered.

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said the pledge and supporting democracy have more importance now, with the volatile political and social climate the world is in today.

“People can always opt out, but in this time period, when democracy feels a little bit shakier than usual, reminding ourselves of our citizenship feels appropriate,” Fuller said.

The first version of the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1885 by Army Capt. George Thatcher Balch, who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. A new version was written in 1892 by magazine editor Francis Bellamy for the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s famous first voyage to North America.

Congress adopted the newer version as the nation’s official Pledge in the 1940s, and the words “under God” were added in 1954.