PARIS — Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Ted Moccia said a decision to have the staff and students salute the American flag only on Monday mornings is not meant as a sign of disrespect, but rather as a way to set the tone for the week.
“We set a tone for all our students. We rise and do it as an entire building,” said Moccia, who noted that he will even stop in the hallway and place his hand over his heart if the pledge is being said. “We're serious. We're engaged. We're doing it.”
The issue arose at last week's Board of Directors meeting when an Otisfield mother of an Afghanistan soldier told the board she had learned the high school does not salute the flag every day.
“I want them to do the Pledge of Allegiance at the high school every day,” Diane Cummings told the board at its Sept. 7 meeting.
“I think we should recognize the flag. I think it's the right thing to do,” she said.
The practice of not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily at the high school has been in place for many years, officials said, although the elementary and middle schools in the Oxford Hills School District do recite the pledge daily, according to some school administrators.
While board Chairman Ron Kugell of Oxford agreed with her, Superintendent Rick Colpitts said school policy does not require that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily. He also agreed that the policy should be revisited. He urged Cummings to talk with the policy subcommittee about reviewing the procedure.
The current school policy states that students can opt out of reciting the pledge by written request.
Whether students should have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school and particularly whether they should include the phrase “one nation under God,” which was inserted into the pledge in the 1950s, has been a topic of ongoing discussion for many years in schools throughout the state and nation.
While many schools do recite the pledge daily, others, such as the Poland and Buckfield high schools do not.
Buckfield High School Assistant Principal Brian Laramee said Monday that each classroom has an American flag, but in the three years he has been at the school, the Pledge of Allegiance has not been recited and, to his knowledge, there has not been any conversation about it.
Poland Regional High School Principal Cari Medd said Monday the school does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but several years ago a group of students and several adults wanted a conversation about reinstating the pledge daily. After what Medd described as a “large democratic talk,” a compromise was reached to allow anyone who wanted to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to do so each day under a flag in the lobby.
Medd said the issue “died out” when those students who felt “passionate” about reciting the pledge graduated two years ago, and since that time, no one has come forward about reinstating it.
“We try to encourage kids daily to participate in the democratic process, but it was not a conscious decision,” she said of the lack of saying the pledge daily. There are flags in each classroom and throughout the rest of the school.
Medd said a new student council is in place this year and she will approach them to see if they would like to discuss the flag salute issue again.
Although the high school does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, it has been a daily activity at the adjoining Whittier Middle School in Poland, said Principal Ayesha Farag-Davis. The daily pledge has not started this year because the newly renovated school is waiting for the arrival of flags for the classroom, Farag-Davis said.
Most other schools in the area, such as Telstar Area High School in Bethel, Dirigo High School in Dixfield and Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.
At Lewiston High School, Assistant Principal Michael Hutchins said the students and staff are led over the intercom, usually by the receptionist, in the pledge every morning.
Edward Little High School Assistant Principal Steve Galway said the students and staff also recite the pledge daily.
“Every morning, once a day at 7:50 p.m.,” he said.
Moccia said a group of students raises and lowers the flag outside the school daily, and there are flags throughout the school.
“I truly believe in service to our country. I respect our service men and women,” Moccia said. “This is not about disrespecting anyone or country.”