Louisiana high school imposes sanctions on students who protest during national anthem

Parkway High School, one of 34 public secondary schools in the Bossier Parish school district in northwest Louisiana, implemented a policy whereby students may be punished with reduced playing time, suspension, or removal from sports teams if they demonstrate during the national anthem. The school principal, Waylon Bates, wrote a letter to parents and student-athletes, in which he referred to protests as disruptions and asserted that participants must stand in a respectful manner at such moments. Scott Smith, superintendent of the Bossier Parish schools, has also publicly stated that students in his district are expected to stand for the national anthem. The policy changes are a reaction to the fact that many coaches and players in the National Football League (NFL) have been kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the United States, especially since Donald Trump became president.

Key Players

Waylon Bates, Parkway High School principal, sent a letter home to parents and athletes, informing them of the school’s new policy regarding extracurricular activities.

Scott Smith is the Bossier Parish schools superintendent who insists that all student-athletes stand respectfully during the national anthem at sporting events.

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana, cited the constitutional rights of the students in her reaction to the prospect of their punishment.

Further Details

Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, ignited what is now a well-known and widespread movement of protesting racial injustice in America during the singing of the national anthem at sporting events. Kaepernick kneeled or sat during the “Star-Spangled Banner” before most games in the 2016 NFL season, but the trend attracted major media attention in the 2017 season when more players and some coaches began joining him in solidarity. Trump expressed his intense anger over what he deemed “total disrespect of our heritage … for everything we stand for” at a political rally in the South.

The NFL protests sparked both widespread support and staunch condemnation from people around the country, and eventually entered the realm of high school sports. Schools on Long Island and in New Jersey threatened serious disciplinary action for those who kneeled during the national anthem. Louisiana is one place where the reaction was particularly severe. Bates, principal of Parkway High School, wrote to inform families of athletes of the school’s expectations. His letter said:

“The LHSAA (Louisiana High School Athletic Association) allows school principals to make decisions regarding student participation in the National Anthem while competing in athletic contests and games. Parkway High School requires student-athletes to stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem during any sporting event in which their team is participating. Failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation as directed by the head coach and principal. Continued failure to comply will result in removal from the team. Parkway High School is committed to creating a positive environment for sporting events that is free of disruption to the athletic contest or game.”

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, has challenged this policy, citing the First Amendment rights of the students to protest peacefully.


Rules remain in place

Despite condemnation and warnings from the ACLU in Louisiana, the rules against protests by athletes during the national anthem remain in place in the Bossier Parish schools in Louisiana.