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Fargo Board Reinstates Pledge 08/19 07:12

   

   FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- The school board in North Dakota's most populous city 
reversed course Thursday on its decision to stop reciting the Pledge of 
Allegiance at its monthly meetings, following complaints from conservative 
lawmakers and an angry backlash from citizens around the country.

   Seven of the nine members of the Fargo Board of Education, including four 
newcomers who took office in June, voted last week to cancel a previous board 
edict that was approved a couple of months before the election. The new board 
agreed with member Seth Holden, who said the pledge did not align with the 
district's diversity and inclusion code in part because the phrase "under God" 
does not include all faiths.

   North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum earlier this week promoted new 
legislation that would require public schools and governing bodies to 
administer the pledge without mandating that people recite it. Republican state 
Rep. Pat Heinert, a retired county sheriff, is suggesting that sanctions be put 
in place for public boards and commissions that don't require the patriotic 
oath.

   Angry emails and voicemails dominated Thursday's special meeting to 
reconsider the vote. Nyamal Dei, a refugee who fled war-torn Sudan, played a 
profanity-laced voicemail from a man who called her a slave, racist and Nazi. 
Several board members apologized to Dei, the lone Black member on the board, 
for taking the worst of the abuse.

   Dei said reversing the decision would be giving in to hate. She paused for 
several seconds before casting the lone no vote to reinstate the pledge.

   "We won't be rewarding our children or students in our district for acting 
in this way," Dei said. "But know that this moment will pass. Let's get back to 
the work that we are elected to do and that is to find a solution to our 
teacher shortages, mental health issues and academic achievement for our 
students."

   City of Fargo spokesman Gregg Schildberger said police "are currently 
investigating a handful reports related to perceived threats" to at least three 
members of the board.

   Board member Greg Clark said he broke down his angry messages and found that 
less than 20% came from Fargo. He acknowledged his vote to bring back the 
pledge was influenced by people he does not represent.

   "But I hope you'll forgive me because I truly believe it is in the best 
interest of our schools to do so," Clark said. "The disruptions and the threats 
must end so that we can have a successful start to our school year."

   Holden, who made the motion to cancel the pledge, said he struggled with his 
decision but was heartbroken over the abusive comments and worried about the 
image of the board.

   "I'm also concerned about what might happen to this board in the future 
because we're going to have to probably be prepared to take more heat than we 
normally do for decisions that we make," he said, "because that there may be a 
perception of success."

   Public comment was not allowed at the special meeting, attended by about two 
dozen citizens. A handful of them clapped after the vote. One of them, Vietnam 
veteran David Halcrow, apologized to Dei after the meeting.

   "What was done to her ... those people need to be in the clink," said 
Halcrow. "It if were up me, they would be in jail. There's no excuse for that 
kind of thing."

 
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