The altercation between Marissa Barnwell and her teacher, Nicole Livingstone, has sparked controversy among students and parents alike.
On November 6th, 2020, which was Barnwell’s 15th birthday, the honor roll student at River Bluff High School in Lexington was met with aggression from her teacher for opting out of standing during the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Surveillance video of the incident shows Barnwell casually walking down the hall, unaware of her coming interaction with Livingston.
The video then clearly shows Livingston aggressively following and accosting Barnwell. Reports indicate that she was ‘snatching at her, pushing her to the wall, and berating her’ for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance.
An ongoing lawsuit spurred by this incident reveals how necessary it is to advocate for safe and respectful learning environments for all students, regardless of their individual beliefs.
Unfortunately, her disbelief soon turned to fear within seconds as she heard herself saying, ‘get your hands off me.’ It is clear from this encounter that no student should be subjected to such treatment in any school setting.
Marissa Barnwell’s parents are filing a lawsuit against the teacher, principal, and education departments for violating their daughter’s constitutional rights.
The federal complaint states that Barnwell was left feeling disrespected and unable to react from being approached so angrily, simply for not participating in the pledge of allegiance.
Barnwell’s experience is heartbreaking and not unique. With no apology from her school district or the faculty member who pushed her, it appears that she will have to continue living with the unresolved pain of the incident.
Every day during school, the students of South Carolina recite the Pledge of Allegiance in accordance with a law enacted by the state legislature over 30 years ago.
However, this law is also responsible for granting students their right to remain silent and opt-out of reciting pledge.
One student experienced this first-hand when an administrator harshly questioned her decision.
After the incident, the student emphasized that something like this should never happen again in South Carolina or any other state in America; no one should be punished for exercising their constitutional right under the First Amendment to protest and not say the pledge.
Last month, a lawsuit was filed against a school district over their policy on the Pledge of Allegiance. According to this policy, students are not required to stand when reciting the Pledge.
However, when Marissa Barnwell’s parents tried to raise the issue with the school’s principal and assistant principal, they were met with an insulting response.
The question that was posed asking if they had provoked Marissa in any way revealed an underlying prejudice and unfairness that forced the family to take a stand.
After conversing ineffectually with school board members, the Barnwell family chose to make their case valid through legal means.
Fynale Barnwell, Marissa’s mother, spoke about her wish for equality for black children: “It’s 2023, and it’s time for change”.
The Barnwell family has certainly made a brave move to register their complaint and demand justice in its purest form.
There is an undeniable injustice in this incident that demands serious consideration and reparation.
As the family’s attorney emphasized, students of all backgrounds should feel safe to freely express themselves without fear of consequence, and those rights to expression should be well-protected both in society and within academic institutions.
The lack of official communication from the school board suggests that this critical matter has been either overlooked or neglected, leaving open a concerning dialogue surrounding whose rights are acknowledged, respected, and assumably granted privilege by various governing bodies.