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Pledge policy may be on its last leg

DILWORTH -  The Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School Board on Thursday revisits a controversial proposed amendment to its student handbook that would let students sit out the Pledge of Allegiance.

The board will vote again after three of six members present at its last meeting flouted Superintendent Bernie Lipp's recommendation and the district attorney's advice in voting against the amendment.

The current handbook calls on students to stand during the pledge, whether they recite along - a rule that provoked an outcry from several students and parents and a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union last month. After the May 27 vote, the Minnesota ACLU director said the organization would consider a lawsuit if the rule stands.

School Board member Tracy Tollefson, who was absent at the May 27 meeting, might cast the deciding vote. Tollefson said she wouldn't comment before Thursday's revote. School Board Chairwoman Marilyn Labrensz said the issue is back on the agenda at Tollefson's request.

If the board didn't tackle the issue again, last month's split vote would shelve the amendment.

School Board members, including those who voted to change the handbook, have said the rule teaches students respect; opponents say it violates students' First Amendment rights.

To Lipp, the issue at the heart of the debate has become fiscal responsibility. He pointed out tweaking a student handbook rule won't detract from this area's emphasis on respect and values. But insisting on keeping the rule might suck the district into a costly legal battle.

"We're in the business of educating kids," Lipp said. "We don't have the resources to take on an effort to change state law and the opinion of the Supreme Court."

He stressed three attorneys weighed in on the issue - the district's own legal counsel as well as legal experts for the Minnesota School Board Association and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals - and unanimously stated the current policy violates state law.

Minnesota statutes say school districts cannot make students participate in the reciting of the pledge, and attorneys the district consulted felt requiring students to stand is essentially making them participate.

Chuck Samuelson, the Minnesota director for the ACLU, reiterated Tuesday his organization is taking a wait-and-see approach until Thursday's meeting.

Board member Jerry Anderson said he understands residents' concerns about spending education dollars on litigation; but, as a veteran, he can't bring himself to vote for an amendment he deems offensive to the country's troops: "Does the policy have to be changed? Probably. I hope if we change the policy, we won't change the practice."

If you go

- What: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton School Board meeting

- When: 5 p.m. Thursday

- Where: Administrative conference room, Dilworth Elementary School

- Info: (218) 287-237