Mari Leigh Oliver, like many others, had a less-than-ideal high school experience. As a Black girl at Klein Oak High School, she frequently found herself metaphorically standing on the outside looking in. But nothing exposed the racial divide of America to her as starkly as how her high school teacher responded when she refused to stand or pledge allegiance.
She refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in her Texas classroom because she felt it was “racist.” She did not want to show support for it by reciting it along with all of the white students in her class, so she didn’t. Although she had a right not to say the Pledge – which the school could not force her to do – she was relentlessly harassed and ridiculed for refusing to comply with everyone else’s actions. The most disturbing thing occurred in the spring of 2017, when Oliver’s high school teacher informed him that he was required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance “like a good girl.”
In 2017, Oliver explained why she chose not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We live in a country where there isn’t justice and freedom for all,” she remarked, adding that the words “under God” and “liberty and justice for all” are particularly hurtful to Blacks in America since they aren’t guaranteed them in any way.
“I’m not going to stand for a pledge that says there is when there really isn’t,” she stated in a press conference in 2017.
Recently, in a show of support, the Texas justice system ruled in favor of Oliver. The court found that the Klein school district had no legal grounds to bully and intimidate Oliver into reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. According to Houston Chronicle reports, the school – and hence Oliver’s teacher- refused to acknowledge their “deliberate indifference” towards trampling on students’ rights.
Accordingly, Oliver’s 75-year-old sociology teacher, Benjie Arnold, has admitted defeat by settling the case and giving Oliver $90,000 for the ordeal.
The sociology teacher will not be required to pay the fee since Arnold is named in the lawsuit. Instead, the Texas Association of School Boards will bail out Arnold. The TASB is a risk pool that gets its money from school districts in Texas if racist and other improper behavior by teachers causes legal issues, as it did in Arnold’s case.
Following the settlement, Oliver’s attorney stated “Teacher Benjie Arnold allegedly singled her out and retaliated against her for sitting out the Pledge. Although she was exempt from the Pledge under state law and teachers had been informed of this fact during a staff meeting, Arnold nonetheless required that she and her classmates write it. After she refused, Arnold told her and the rest of the class: ‘What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want.’”