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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Texas student's refusal to say Mexican pledge, anthem starts controversy

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas - Every day students in Texas public schools pledge allegiance to the flags of the United States and Texas.

But when a teacher in a Rio Grande Valley high school assigned students to stand and pledge allegiance to the Mexican flag and sing Mexico's national anthem, one student refused.

The resulting controversy has one East Texas lawmaker wanting changes in the state's curriculum on how culture and patriotism are taught in schools.

15-year-old Brenda Brinsdon entered her sophomore year at McAllen ISD's Achieve Early College High School just wanting to do well in her classes.

But in mid-September she got an unexpected lesson on personal conviction and taking on the system.

"I feel that I did what's right," Brinsdon said. "And I know what I did what's right [...] I'm going to stand my ground."

Brinsdon said she stood her ground by staying seated when first-year Spanish 3 teacher Reyna Santos assigned her class to stand and recite Mexico's pledge of allegiance.

Students stood with right arms straight out and palms down, which is how the school district says Mexicans say their pledge.

Calling the lesson "un-American," Brinsdon recorded the class, which occurred the week of Mexico's Independence Day and also the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The teacher also told students to memorize and recite the the pledge individually.

And when the time came for the part of the assignment to sing Mexico's national anthem, Brinsdon again refused.

With that, Santos asked the class to stand and led the class in the anthem.

"I told her, I was like, 'I thought this was a Spanish class,'" Brinsdon recalled. "And she's like, 'Well, yeah it is, it's like, it's a cultural thing.' And so I was the only one that sat down."

She was given an alternate assignment.

Brinsdon's father, William, backs his daughter. He said that reciting a pledge to any other nation has no place in public schools.

"What are we to do? Just lay down and let it happen?" Mr. Brinsdon said. "Or should we stand up for our country?"

Santos couldn't be reached for comment.

The school district declined several News 8 requests to interview someone with the district.

But in a statement, said it was a single lesson on Hispanic culture in one class at one campus, the lesson will be reviewed and students recite the U.S. pledge daily. 

This Spanish class assignment, Brenda Brisdon's refusal and the school district's response caused a firestorm on the right.

Conservative websites erupted, getting the attention of Republican State Representative Dan Flynn of Canton.

"It was a shock to me," he said.

The Texas Education Agency says the state curriculum outlines what must be taught, but local districts decide how it's taught.

Flynn said since the state allows that much discretion, he'll file a bill again to require more mandatory studies on the U.S. Constitution.

"I do have a problem if we're making that the assignment for young people to stand up and pledge to another country," Flynn said. "It lessens the value of the pledge to the United States flag."

After no one with the district agreed to an interview, News 8 confronted McAllen School Board President Sam Saldivar after a meeting. He indicated he didn't agree with the lesson.

"I would have taken a different approach, again I'm not an educator," Saldivar said.

But as the leader of the board that sets policy, Saldivar said there's no decision yet on whether to change the curriculum.

"That's a curriculum, a teacher working with the administration," Saldiver said. "As I understand it, it's going to be reviewed, and more likely a better approach will be taken in the future."

Dallas Democratic State Representative Roberto Alonzo said to question the loyalty of the teacher and school district is unfair.

"This is a class," Alonzo said. "This is not doing allegiance to Mexico, it's not you know you are going to be part of Mexico, this is just a class to learn Spanish - to learn an aspect of what is Texas."

Brinsdon said she's been pulled from Santos' class and gets her lessons separately now. Despite the controversy, she has no regrets.

"I really hope that I was an inspiration to a lot of youth in America to stand up for what's right," Brinsdon said.