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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 11:26 pm | Fair 51º


SBCC Trustees Vote to Return Pledge of Allegiance to Board Meetings

Unanimous move comes after board President Robert Miller decided to drop it from the board's agenda earlier this year

Members of the Santa Barbara City College board of trustees recite the Pledge of Allegience. Click to view larger
Members of the Santa Barbara City College board of trustees recite the Pledge of Allegience Thursday night. The board voted unanimously to approve a resolution that includes the pledge on the agenda ‘unless and until a majority of the board determines otherwise.’ (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees is bringing back the Pledge of Allegiance.

The board voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a resolution that includes the pledge on the agenda “unless and until a majority of the board determines otherwise.”

After hearing more than three hours of public comments, board members addressed a recent pledge controversy with the resolution to reinstate it into board meetings.

The lengthy discussion comes after board President Robert Miller put an end to reciting the pledge in late January.

In an email to Celeste Barber, a former instructor at the college, Miller said that the pledge “has a history steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.”

“I have not changed my views on the pledge, but the interest of the college comes first,” Miller said Thursday, adding that he supports the resolution. “The controversy has been an unwelcome distraction from our primary goal to educate students and maximize their chances for success.”

According to the resolution, historically, since at least 1959, the Pledge of Allegiance was not included at board meetings. 

In July 2018, a local resident requested to add the pledge at the beginning of board meetings.

It was added in July and removed from the agenda this year without a discussion or decision by the board or further public input, according to the resolution.

Celeste Barber, a former instructor at Santa Barbara City College, addresses the college’s board of trustees. Click to view larger
Celeste Barber, a former instructor at Santa Barbara City College, addresses the college’s board of trustees Thursday night: ‘There’s really one primary underlying reason why we freely recite the pledge in this country. That’s because we love this country.’ (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The pledge was temporarily reinstated in January.

At the request of board members, the permanent reinstatement of the Pledge of Allegiance was placed on Thursday’s agenda.

According to the resolution, board members have received comments from community members, and the board acknowledges that differing views have been expressed.

“Some of the emails that we got were absolutely vile, and it was an eye opener, the way it can be used to divide the people of this country,” board member Kate Parker said. 

The resolutions states that the pledge “is voluntary and no person attending the board meeting is required to state” it.

“No one is obliged to say the pledge,” board member Jonathan Abboud said. “It’s perfectly valid to sit, to kneel, to stay silent or do anything, but I think we need to reiterate that at every single meeting.”

Abboud said he would vote for the resolution, but wanted the motion to add the word “someday” after the Pledge of Allegiance’s words “liberty and justice for all.” 

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, seven of the eight board members placed their hands over their hearts when pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag.

Interim Student Trustee Kenny Igbechi was the lone member on the board who did not.

“We are allowed to think freely,” Igbechi said. “The Pledge of Allegiance celebrates shared values, and we are not against it — we are not against America.”

Igbechi stressed that “none of the students were involved in the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance.”

He said the pledge represents “very little of the problems” at the college, adding that students classified as homeless and other issues should get more attention because it’s affecting the campus.

Snaps of support could be heard during Igbechi’s remarks.

To accommodate the larger-than-usual crowd, the regular scheduled meeting was relocated to the SBCC Wake Campus auditorium.

Some 300 people gathered inside the building. 

About 60 community members, including SBCC alumni, veterans and Santa Barbara County natives, took to the podium. 

Grace Wallace, a Goleta resident for five years, wore an American-flag-print scarf-like top that wrapped around her.

“I come before you heavy hearted — shocked, appalled and flabbergasted that an American citizen who lays his head down at night under the stars of freedom, and rises each morning privileged to walk in all its benefits, would be so ungrateful to dishonor this symbol of freedom personally, but also to silence others from saying the pledge,” Wallace said. “It will forever stand for strength, freedom, justice and faith in God, in which our nation was founded."

The speakers highlighted a variety of topics focused on the Pledge of Allegiance, including its history, symbols of patriotism, its importance in U.S. military culture and what the American flag signifies.

“What I heard tonight were deeply personal stories, and deeply personal feelings about what the pledge means for you, for this community and for this college as a public institution,” board member Marsha Croninger said. “It has been a long evening.”

Miller said each person would be limited to two minutes to voice their concerns, but many went over time.

A lot of audience members yelled out, “time” when speakers talked longer than two minutes. 

Some comments got the cheering crowd on their feet, and many were cut off by loud applause.

The sound of hissing could be heard sometimes.

A lot of people pulled out their phones to video record the speakers during public comment.

A handful of attendees hoped to stand at the podium and speak on non-agenda items during the public comment period. They did not mention the Pledge of Allegiance discussion.

Audience members expressed frustration over the board’s handling of speakers talking during the public comment period without filling out the appropriate forms.

Heated confrontation broke out between some audience members and the board in the middle of the meeting.

“The board silencing a black woman, once again, made it clear that white supremacy is alive and well in Santa Barbara,” Abboud said. 

Miller interrupted some audience members who were yelling in the crowd by banging his gavel.

The board decided to take a brief recess time, and listened to more than 10 speakers on various topics before voting on the Pledge of Allegiance resolution.

“We were here for other matters, and had to stay here for two hours,” a resident shouted to the board. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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