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Philosophy crowds out finances

The School Committee on Tuesday, June 22, accepted a job-saving check from a private fund-raising effort for $483,800, heard that the continuing shortfall likely means the loss of 98 positions and rejected a plea to encourage the Pledge of Allegiance in class despite a student's tears.

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The 3-3 vote meant the measure to promote the 118-year-old oath written by a socialist, even if it was a recorded version, failed. In response, at least a dozen supporters of the two-year effort by Arlington High School student Sean Harrington walked out, some of them directing oaths of a nastier sort at the committee.


Boston Globe, June, 24: Toward a budget on Beacon Hill


Among the supporters admonished was Lyman Judd, a former longtime Town Meeting member and a veteran.

"I will not falter from my cause until my goal is met," said Harrington, who wept following the 3-3 vote. He said his cause had drawn taunts of "Nazi and fascist."

After Harrington came before the committee in 2008, asking that flags and the daily recitation of the Pledge be restored in all classrooms, the schools moved to add flags where they were needed. Joseph Curro Jr., committee chair, who said his father was a full colonel, said he personally replaced a flag.

But the committee at the time had not moved on the Pledge. It had received an opinion from town counsel that the state law Harrington cited in support of his claim that Arlington public school were acting illegally is unenforceable. Trumping it are decisions by the state Supreme Judicial Court and the US Supreme Court.

Trying again, this time with signatures from 700 people, including senators Kerry and McCain as well as Tea Party leaders, Harrington said he came to finish what he started.

"The Pledge of Allegiance is more than 31 words," Harrington said. "It is living and breathing statement that shows the bond a person has to their country."

"I commend you," Curro said. "But I disagree with your legal interpretation."

Committee member Joseph Curran gave Harrington's push an opening. "Our freedom is not free," he said, and he moved to reinstate the daily saying of the Pledge.

During discussion of the motion, member Judson Pierce asked Harrington about a couple of cases in which Jehovah’s Witnesses challenged the requirement of recite the Pledge. One was the 1943 case in West Virginia and another in Lynn, Mass., in the 1930s.

"I don't want it to be mandatory," Harrington said.

"I don't want to return to those days" before the rulings, Pierce said.

After some discussion in which it was clear that the votes to support Curran's view were not there, Curren revised his motion to call for a daily recitation either by willing participants or by the playing of a recording.

Committee member Leba Heigham said: "Patriotism is a very personal thing for all of us, but I do not think it is in the School Committee's best interest to mandate that any of our employees recite the Pledge."

Voting in favor were Curran, Curro and Starks. Opposed were members Heigham, Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Pierce. Jeff Thielman was out of town on business. Under a tie vote, a motion fails. 

The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy.

The current Pledge reads: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." The "under God" was added by congress in 1954, as the McCarthy era was waning.

In other business, the committee received a check from the Bridge the Gap fund, destined for the Arlington Education Foundation. The money is expected to restore 18 positions, many of them part time.

The fund-raising effort has pulled in more than $100,000 after the June 7 deadline, but the committee voted, 6-0, to delay discussing what to do with the money until state and federal budget issues are clearer. A special meeting will be held this summer.

The fund can continue to receive money until the end of July.

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie told the committee that it appears that the budget shortfall will result in the loss of 98.6 positions.

Earlier, the Arlington High School cheerleaders announced they will again perform at the Gator Bowl in Florida next winter.

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