A group of parents and people supporting students at Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Lansing are continuing to protest a school rule that students must stand for the national anthem. They’re encouraging people to “divest” by ceasing to volunteer, donate or raise money for the diocese. Four Lansing Catholic High School football players sparked the controversy in the fall of 2016 when they began kneeling during the national anthem at football games.
At Immaculate Heart of Mary-St. Casimir school, Paul Torok says his sixth grade son was recently suspended for a day after kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance. Torok says the mostly white diocese and schools don’t do enough to recognize the effects of racism and racial injustice.
Torok was among the group of parents and supporters that met with Diocese of Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, after picketing outside the Diocese office for longer than four hours, according to Torok. After the meeting, the Bishop said in a press release that he was “moved” to hear how racism affects the lives of some people in the diocese and its schools. Boyea asked school administrators to “be lenient with the consequences” for students who kneel during the national anthem and pledge of allegiance, but said students should still stand to pay respect to veterans.
Boyea also said the diocese would create a “racial diversity taskforce” charged with making recommendations to make the diocese and its schools more welcoming to people of color.
Torok said the announcement of the taskforce “fell short” of what he and others wanted from the meeting. Torok says the rule punishes children for raising awareness of racial injustice.
“We’re not asking for leniency because [the kneeling students] are not doing anything wrong,” Torok said.
The group of parents and supporters is a loose association of people in the diocese community. The group calls itself “LCHS4 and more” on Facebook – an homage to the original four LCHS football players who knelt in protest. One of the four, Kabbash Richards, also plays basketball at LCHS. The Lansing State Journal reported Richards was benched for a game earlier in the season for violating team rules unrelated to anthem protests, and said he was not continuing to kneel as of December.
Rovonya Velasquez is the mother of another one of the so-called LCHS4, Roje Williams. She said she and Williams were also disappointed by Boyea’s insistence students must stand for the anthem or pledge.
“The Diocese just should have said plain and simple, there’s no cause for punishment. Because they didn’t do anything wrong.”
Veasquez hopes the divestment protest continues to raise awareness that students of color and supporters are unhappy with the Diocese administration.
“They’re not paying attention to what is actually happening to these children in these schools,” Velasquez said. “They need to start with acknowledging the fact that there is a racism issue in the catholic schools, especially Lansing Catholic [High School].”
Velasquez and Torok both say there have been instances of white students using racial slurs and antagonizing some of the minority players who kneeled to protest since the fall.
Torok says LCHS didn’t play the national anthem at a recent home basketball game, and claims Immaculate Heart of Mary-St. Casimir school where his son studies at least momentarily stopped doing the daily pledge of allegiance.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Lansing said it’s focused on establishing the racial diversity taskforce, but did not know if the rule that students must stand for the national anthem would be a specific focal point of the group. The spokesperson says appointments to the taskforce should be named in a few weeks.
With the creation of the taskforce, Torok says the diocese is side-stepping accountability for ignoring racism in its mostly white schools in the past.
“Instead they’re going forward with the next step, which is to say ‘look at these great things we’re doing to address this,” Torok said.
Torok hopes though that the diocese will seek input from community members, especially people of color, when it comes to seeking appointments for the taskforce and gathering feedback.