School board won’t mandate national anthem, Alaska flag song

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - 15:46

Anchorage schools will not be required to play the national anthem and the “Alaska State Flag Song” at the start of each school week after the Anchorage School Board decided it needs more time to study a board policy revision that board member Dave Donley believes will foster more patriotism in students.

“There’s so few things that hold us together as a nation,” Donley told the board before it voted 4-3 Monday evening to return his proposed policy revision to the board’s governance committee.

Donley’s proposal would not require students to sing or participate in the observances, but it would require those not participating to “maintain a respectful silence and not disrupt the ceremony.”

Donley, Starr Marsett and Deena Mitchell voted against board member Andy Holleman’s motion to refer the matter to committee; Mark Foster, Alisha Hilde and Elisa Snelling joined Holleman in voting in favor.

The vote came after an hour of sometimes emotional — and sporadically testy — testimony from nearly 30 members of the public who mostly favored Donley’s policy revision, which would have mandated both songs be played at the start of the day on the first day of each week.

“I think pride is something kids are missing today,” said Anchorage veteran Randy Eledge, who added he would support playing both songs daily.

Retired Army colonel and former Alaska Republican Party chair Peter Goldberg agreed. One of several veterans who testified in favor of the policy revision, the Eagle River man said the anthem stands for rights gained through the sacrifice of American servicemen and women.

“If we fail to support this, we’re slapping the face of so many patriots,” he said.

But Eagle River’s Tom Klaameyer — an Air Force vet — said Donley’s proposal comes dangerously close to indoctrination.

“How far do we go from forced singing down a slippery slope to forced marching?” said Klaameyer, who is president of the Anchorage Education Association but was speaking on his own behalf.

Klaameyer questioned Donley’s motives for bringing the proposal forward.

“This is an amendment searching for a problem,” said Klaameyer, who was admonished by board president Marsett after making an offhand comment about Donley singing the third verse of the Alaska Flag Song (which has just two verses).

Klaameyer’s jab at Donley wasn’t the only prickly exchange of the meeting. During his defense of the proposal, Donley — a former Republican state senator who serves as deputy commissioner in the Alaska Department of Administration — implied Holleman wanted to dodge a vote on the policy revision.

“It’s a simple proposal: Play the national anthem once a week in our schools. If you don’t want to do that, vote it down. But don’t refer it back to committee because you don’t want to be on the record,” Donley said.

Holleman, who also served as head of the local teachers union, took offense to Donley’s remarks.

“Excuse me, that’s a direct insult to me,” said Holleman, who then tried to question Donley about an email that he said circulated Monday about the proposal. “I’m taking a stand on it. There’s a letter that went out that I don’t know who sent it that I think lied. You want to own it? Will you own it?”

Holleman was ruled out of order and both he and Donley were instructed by Marsett to conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Donley said his proposal would give students a better understanding of the nation’s history and argued that some of the best schools in the district — including top-ranked Eagle Academy Charter School in Eagle River — play the anthem daily before school.

“I think that pretty much shoots down the idea that there’s no time,” he said.

He said surveys sent to ASD schools showed most don’t play the anthem regularly and a handful weren’t even reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily as required by the board. Since he began looking into the issue, Donley said all schools are now saying the pledge — which he considered a victory in its own right.

“I’m really happy board policy is now being followed,” he said.

Student advisory member Emily Hickox (who doesn’t have a vote on the board) said she opposed Donley’s policy revision because she thinks the meaning of the songs will be lost due to repetition. She also countered those who believe students aren’t aware of their history.

“I understand this is clearly the unpopular opinion, but especially in high school I think we do learn U.S. history so often, and it is very important that we do and that we understand where the birth of our country and how we came about, the rights that we have,” said the South High student. “However, I don’t think this is the right way to do it.”

Marsett was the last person to speak before the vote on Holleman’s motion. The board president teared up as she recalled seeing her father spit on after returning from Vietnam, but said she opposed Donley’s proposal. Marsett said the schools she attended growing up on military bases didn’t open each day with the anthem, and she doesn’t believe it’s the Anchorage School District’s job to teach its students to be patriotic.

“What I learned was morals from home and patriotism from my family,” she said.

The matter will now return to the board’s governance committee for further discussion and could be brought forward again in the future.

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