FARGO, ND (AP) — The school board in North Dakota’s most populous city reversed its decision Thursday to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at its monthly meetings, after complaints from the governor and lawmakers. state conservatives, along with widespread attacks from citizens around the world. the country..
Seven of the nine members of the Fargo Board of Education, including four newcomers who took office in June, voted last week to reject an earlier board edict that passed a couple of months before the election. The new board agreed with member Seth Holden, who said the commitment did not align with the district’s diversity and inclusion code in part because the phrase “under God” does not include all religions.
North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum earlier this week sponsored new legislation that would require public schools and governing bodies to administer the pledge without forcing people to recite it. Republican state Rep. Pat Heinert, a retired county sheriff, suggests establishing penalties for public boards and commissions that don’t require the patriotic oath.
Nasty emails and voicemails dominated Thursday’s special meeting to reconsider the vote. Nyamal Dei, a refugee who fled war-torn Sudan, played a profanity-laden voicemail from a man who called her a slave, a racist and a Nazi. Several board members apologized to Dei, the only black member on the board, for taking the brunt of the abuse.
Dei said that to roll back the decision would be to give in to hatred. He paused for several seconds before casting the only dissenting vote to reinstate the promise.
“We will not reward our children or students in our district for acting in this way,” Dei said. “But I know this moment will pass. Let’s get back to the job we were elected to do and that is to find a solution to the teacher shortage, mental health issues and the academic performance of our students.”
Fargo city spokesman Gregg Schildberger said police are “currently investigating a handful of reports related to perceived threats” to at least three board members.
Board member Greg Clark said he broke down his angry messages and found that less than 20% came from outside of Fargo. He admitted that his vote to re-engage was directly influenced by people he does not represent.
“But I hope you will forgive me because I truly believe that it is in the best interest of our schools to do so.” Clark said. “The disruptions and threats must end so that we can have a successful start to our school year.”
Holden, who made the motion to rescind the promise, said he struggled with his decision but was heartbroken by the petty comments and worried about the image of the board.
“I’m also concerned about what might happen to this board in the future because we’re probably going to have to be prepared to take more pressure than we normally do for the decisions that we make,” he said, “because there might be a perception of success.”
Public comments were not allowed at the special meeting, which was attended by about two dozen citizens. A handful of them applauded after the vote. One of them, Vietnam veteran David Halcrow, apologized to Dei after the meeting.
“What they did to her … those people must be in the clink,” said Halcrow, who had a cast on his lower left leg and walked with a cane. “If it were up to me, they would be in jail. There’s no excuse for that kind of thing.”
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