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McFeely: An unforced error by the Fargo School Board

Sure it's silly for Republicans to be this riled up over the Pledge of Allegiance. But they're apparently talking vengeance. Sometimes it's best to play the political game.

Fargo School Board member Seth Holden, left, declines to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Color Guard at the Tuesday, April 12, 2022, meeting. The board will no longer recite the verse after it rescinded the motion on Tuesday, Aug. 9, voting in favor of removing it.Michael Vosburg/The Forum
Fargo School Board member Seth Holden, left, declines to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Color Guard at the Tuesday, April 12, 2022, meeting. The board will no longer recite the verse after it rescinded the motion on Tuesday, Aug. 9, voting in favor of removing it.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Let's get one thing straight. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance prior to Fargo School Board meetings wasn't a longstanding tradition the current board tossed away with disdain. The school board said the pledge before meetings since exactly April. Big whoop.

The motion to recite the pledge was originally introduced in February by conservative former board member David Paulson, who was playing politics. He knew he would drive an election-year wedge in the board and feed red meat to Fargo's angry Republicans because he knew some board colleagues would be against his motion.

And who, other than godless anti-American commies, would be against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? It was Politics 101.

It didn't work for Paulson and other right-wing board candidates. He lost re-election in June, as did some goofballs to whom he tied his campaign.

But because of the naivete and perhaps stubbornness of the current board, the Pledge of Allegiance "controversy" has returned with a vengeance.

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It was an unforced, unnecessary error. And it might cost Fargo Public Schools in Bismarck during the upcoming legislative session.

The board voted 7-2 last week to rescind the motion to say the pledge before meetings. Board member Seth Holden said the pledge doesn’t align with the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion values.

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The Fargo School Board voted 7-2 in favor of rescinding a previous approved motion to begin their bi-weekly meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance. The board ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance didn't align with the Fargo Public School District's diversity code.

The predictable storm of ginned-up outrage and faux patriotism followed. And will continue. The board's decision got some national traction in right-wing media, including Fox News. Local Limbaugh wannabes are hammering it. It was all so unsurprising.

It didn't need to be this way.

The current board is as progressive as it's ever been and so clearly was going to devote energy toward diversity and inclusion issues. That's good.

But part of being on an elected body is recognizing what's worth a fight. And discerning the temperature of the room. There needs to be a level of political awareness and maturity. The new board, just elected in June, didn't show it with this vote.

Yes, saying the Pledge of Allegiance before a school board meeting is largely performative patriotism. Whether it's recited or not has zero bearing on the important business of a school board. No children's lives will be affected by its recitation. With that we agree.

But if throwing a pacifier to angry toddlers makes your job easier going forward, then there's no harm. Give them their pledge. Move on to important things.

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Instead, the board chose a fight.

Was it worth it?

Likely not. Word in political circles is that Republican state legislators, particularly Fargo-area ones, are angry. There is already talk of retaliation against Fargo Public Schools in Bismarck, again predictable as the sunrise.

It makes no sense, of course, to punish students and teachers over something as innocuous as the Pledge of Allegiance, but North Dakota is a glowing red state with a legislature not filled with deep thinkers. The current Republican Party is so focused on fringe culture issues, phony patriotism and non-existent threats (CRT!) — all while being deeply distrustful of public education — that there will be backlash.

Holden and his colleagues needed to read the room better. Or at all. They should know that Republicans are convinced public schools are "indoctrinating" children to be so-called woke liberals, even if that belief is so dumb it's not worthy of a response. They should know Republicans are looking for any reason to drop the hammer on public education, which they believe to be a political tool owned by liberals.

And if Republicans have a super-majority in Bismarck, and control the purse strings, then that's the hand Fargo School Board members were dealt. Instead of trying to manage the situation, seven board members instead went the obstinate route.

You'd hope Fargo area Republicans would be big enough to not take their anger over faux patriotism out on children, but when you're talking about people like Jim Kasper and Co. that's unlikely. Let's hope the damage done isn't too deep.

Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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