HOUSTON (CN) – A black Texas high school student and her mom claim in a federal lawsuit that the principal expelled her last week for sitting through the Pledge of Allegiance, after which the school secretary told her, "This is not the NFL."
Kizzy Landry sued Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Windfern High School Principal Martha Strother on behalf of her daughter India Landry, a senior at the school, on Saturday in Houston federal court. They are represented by prominent Houston civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen.
With more than 115,000 students spread over 91 campuses in suburban Houston, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is the third largest school district in Texas. Its student body is 44.8 percent Hispanic, 24.6 percent white, 17.8 percent African-American and 9.3 percent Asian, according to the district.
The Landrys say in the lawsuit, which identifies India by her initials, that India had sat through the Pledge of Allegiance around 200 times in the district's classrooms without incident before Oct. 2.
According to the complaint, she was sitting in Strother's office at 9:30 a.m. that day with Strother and the school secretary Mrs. Walters when the pledge was recited over the school intercom.
"I.L. continued to sit. Principal Strother upon seeing this immediately expelled I.L. from school saying 'Well you're kicked outta here,'" the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)
India says she was taken to the office of Assistant Principal Penny Irwin-Fitt, who told her to call her mother to come pick her up and said a district police officer would escort her from the building if her mom didn't get there in five minutes.
"Mrs. Walters said, 'This is not the NFL.' Ms. Fitt said India was going to stand for the pledge like the other African-Americans in her class," the complaint states.
Neither Walters nor Irwin-Fitt are defendants in the lawsuit, which doesn't include their first names.
"Strother had recently been whipped into a frenzy by the publicity of African-American National Football League players kneeling during the National Anthem at NFL football games," the lawsuit says.
Kizzy Landry says she picked up her daughter a half hour after Strother expelled her, and unsuccessfully tried to get an explanation from Strother, who would not see her.
The mother called school administrators on Oct. 3 and 4 to see if India could return to school, she says, and Strother finally agreed to meet with her the morning of Oct. 5.
"Principal Strother iterated that India must stand for the pledge to be let back in at Windfern. Principal Strother said that sitting was disrespectful and would not be allowed," the complaint states.
It continues, "Principal Strother suggested that India write about justice and African-Americans being killed. Ms. Strother then said the meeting is over and if India does not stand for the pledge she cannot return to Windfern."