SCS will respect athletes who choose to kneel during national anthem

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The controversy surrounding athletes kneeling during the national anthem could expand into high schools.

Friday night brings high school football to stadiums across the country. Now, with all eyes on players during the national anthem, school districts are preparing for students who may choose to take a knee.

Kneeling during the national anthem started in 2016 with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about violence committed against African-Americans by law enforcement. Slowly, other players joined the peaceful protest.

But the protest received a jolt last weekend when President Donald Trump began attacking the NFL and players who participated in the protest.

Now, the first Friday after President Trump elevated the protest into the national conversation, high school athletes may choose to take part in the protest.

One school in Louisiana threatened students who choose to kneel during the national anthem, but Shelby County Schools in Memphis is taking a different course of action.

"Shelby County Schools respects every student's right to free expression as protected by the First Amendment. Students who kneel or join arms during the national anthem are expressing their rights protected by the First Amendment. District policy states that no student shall be compelled to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem if the student or the student's parent/legal guardian objects on religious, philosophical or other grounds. That said, we expect all forms of student expression to always be respectful of others and peaceful in nature. Any demonstration that impedes others and/or poses a disruption to safety or order will not be tolerated."

From professional football stadiums to high school fields, football games have become a place to debate whether peaceful protests are appropriate during the national anthem.

"If you want to take a knee and protest peacefully, go ahead and do it," said Jason Don, who supports peaceful protests.

After reports of Shelby County students taking a knee during the anthem, the Shelby County School District took a stance on the hot button topic.

It's an opinion not everyone agrees with.

"They do have the freedom to protest, but don't protest the flag," said Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland.

Roland reacted to the District's stance in his own press release.

"I cannot believe that Shelby County Schools have stooped so low that they are now compellingdisrespect to the flag that provides the largest source of funding to teach the children.  Shelby County School's policy states that no student shall be compelled to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem if the student or the student's parent/legal guardian objects on religious, philosophical or other grounds.  But SCS turns around and compel students to take a knee or lock arms during the National Anthem.  What are we teaching our children? This is not a First Amendment issue – this is about patriotism and pushing a political agenda."

"I think it's an agenda the schools is trying to put out and that's absolutely wrong," Roland said.

He also said students are following the lead of professional players, a statement one advocate of the protest agreed with.

"They look up to these NFL players, they aspire to be these NFL players, so I'm not surprised," Don said.

We attended several football games Friday evening and we did not see any athletes take a knee during the anthem.

But the SCS statement also said they expect all protest to be peaceful in nature, and that disruptions to safety will not be tolerated.

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