A substitute teacher in Oregon reportedly told a fifth-grade student to “go back to Mexico,” over his refusal to take part in a patriotic ritual at the school.
According to local ABC affiliate KATU, the teacher–who has not been identified–issued the racially-charged rejoinder after the boy, Steven Zendejas, declined to participate in the pledge of allegiance.
“She said, ‘If you don’t want to sing, go back to Mexico’ and that got me really depressed,” Zendejas told the outlet.
Zendejas later asked to go to the restroom but instead made a beeline for the vice-principal’s office.
Punishment was reportedly swift, with the teacher now barred from teaching in the school district.
His mother had some strong words as well.
“That comment that a substitute made to my son is not appreciated for any of my family members or myself,” Liliana Ruiz said.
In additional comments to KATU, Ruiz said that her son was born in the United States and is a U.S. citizen.
“We’re really disappointed with what happened yesterday at Swegle Elementary,” said Lillian Govus, spokesperson for the Salem-Keizer school district. “We pride ourselves on being a safe and welcoming school district. What that substitute said to that student doesn’t align with our values.”
The pledge of allegiance is an optional ceremony at public institutions–though that wasn’t always necessarily the case.
In 1942, the West Virginia State Board of Education passed a law mandating that all students and teachers must rise, salute the flag, and recite the oath first penned in 1892. A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to the government directive–saying that such a pledge of allegiance violated their religious beliefs–and sued.
The case made it’s way to the Supreme Court, which eventually determined “the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits public schools from forcing students to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Writing for a 6-3 majority in the of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Justice Robert Jackson noted the constitutional incongruity of compelling speech:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.