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This school dared to tell kids Pledge of Allegiance is optional

Ashley Austrew is a freelance writer who loves tacos, Target and screen time. Her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, The Stir, Mommyish and more.

Parents are having a star-spangled conniption over this school's Pledge of Allegiance rule

The first week of school is a barrage of new schedules, new faces and plenty of paperwork for parents to fill out. There are the standard "getting to know you" sheets for the teacher and applications to join the PTA, but parents in one Florida school district are outraged over a new form that came home in their kids' student handbooks. Leon County Schools are facing backlash for giving parents paperwork that allows them to opt their child out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

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The opt-out form went viral this week after Facebook user Micah Brienen shared a photo of it that he got from his niece. The paper includes a box can parents can choose to mark off that says, "I understand my rights as a parent and I request that my child, noted above, be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This request includes standing and placing his/her right hand over his/her heart."

A 1943 Supreme Court decision protects students' right to opt out of the Pledge, and the form is little more than a way for the school to make sure parents and students are informed of that right. But many on social media see the form as insulting and unpatriotic. Brienen's post has more than 26,000 shares and dozens of angry comments. One mom even wrote, "I'm thinking I would pull my kids out of that school immediately!"

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The Pledge of Allegiance has long been a source of controversy. To some, not pledging to the flag is akin to being unpatriotic, not respecting our military and not supporting American values. There are a lot of strong feelings tied to the ritual of pledging allegiance, and that's why the vitriol for this opt-out form is so strong, even though it doesn't make a ton of sense.

There are a million reasons why someone might opt out of saying the Pledge. Perhaps a child has a sensory disorder, and the act of standing, placing a hand over their heart and reciting something is too disruptive or difficult. Maybe a parent takes issue with the "under God" portion of ritual — which wasn't a part of the original Pledge of Allegiance — or with the origins and history of the Pledge itself. Perhaps parents simply don't want their children pledging their allegiance to any entity until they're old enough to understand what they're saying.

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People have many personal reasons for saying or not saying the Pledge, and giving them the right to opt out isn't some sinister, traitorous move. It's merely an acknowledgement that everyone has rights to free speech and freedom of expression, and that includes being able to withhold their participation in certain rituals. If we want our children to be free thinkers, it's important for them to see those rights and freedoms in action.

Since the backlash began, officials from Leon County Schools have pulled the form and will no longer include it in future handbooks after so many parents voiced concerns. But removing the form doesn't remove anyone's ability to opt out, and it seems like a missed opportunity to give kids the very important lesson that we must always allow others their own beliefs and opinions, even when we disagree with them.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Parents are having a star-spangled conniption over this school's Pledge of Allegiance rule
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