Lely principal ‘regrets’ wording of anthem message

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NAPLES, Fla. – The principal who required students “stand and stay quiet” during the playing of the United States national anthem regrets the delivery of his message, a Collier County Public Schools spokesman said Thursday.

Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth told students Monday that they would show respect while the song was played.

“What you do during that time is your own business,” he said in a televised morning announcement. “If you want to sing a song in your head, if you want to meditate — I really don’t care. What I do care is that you stand and stay quiet.”

His recorded announcement came at a time of heightening protests that are mobilizing around the anthem as a national symbol. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has initiated the movement, mostly among athletes, to call attention to what he says is the continued oppression of black American citizens. Some of the resulting conversations have been about whether his act of kneeling during the anthem is appropriate. The budding protests have also triggered some athletic departments to develop policies that clarify a stance on the issue.

That’s not what Lely High School’s principal was trying to do, according to Greg Turchetta of Collier County schools.

Despite the national debate, Nemeth’s timing was only coincidental, he said Thursday. Students in the district are not required to stand during the anthem, he said; what Nemeth was trying to do was respond to a disruptive incident involving students.

“There was a volleyball game at Lely the night before Principal Nemeth recorded the message,” Turchetta said. “There was probably 20 kids that we’re being kids — that were being a little loud during the National anthem at that game, so his message the next day was in response to what had happened the night before.”

The incident at the volleyball game was not a protest, Turchetta said. Collier County schools does not have that “problem” and principals do not scrutinize over how students exercise their freedoms, he said.

“In Collier County, we do not have a problem with national anthem protests. We do not have principals that are patrolling, looking for things. It hasn’t been an issue,” Turchetta said. “Obviously, students have rights to express their freedoms. It really comes back to the issue of disruption.”

Nemeth acknowledges that using the word “stand” was especially controversial, Turchetta said, but his goal was to curb disruptive behavior that violates school policies.

“His message was a little too strong. His word choices could have been better and he acknowledges that,” Turchetta said.

The principal returned to his students Thursday to address the televised announcement and its intent.

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