Cops watching Geneva school after Pledge flap
A Kane County Sheriff's deputy was stationed for the second day Friday at Mill Creek Elementary School near Geneva, in reaction to a parent's protest of how children were saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
But the parent being investigated maintains he is not a threat to children's safety: "America, God and children are what is important to me," said Colin McGroarty of Rockford.
School officials called the sheriff's office twice Wednesday: once after McGroarty spoke in front of children, and later that day after the school district received an email from him that it deemed threatening.
There was a disturbance in the school library "involving a parent and the use of language that is not typically heard in a school setting. A kindergarten class was present at the time," school officials wrote.
Wednesday evening, they said, the parent emailed the school board, administrators and some Mill Creek school parents, and posted a message on social media, charging that the school did not recite the Pledge of Allegiance correctly, leaving out the word "liberty."
"The emails this parent sent, accompanied by the social media post prompted district officials to involve the Kane County Sheriff's Department once again. The safety of all our students is of highest priority, and there will be an increased police presence at all of our elementary schools today and in the future," the school statement said.
McGroarty said Friday he volunteers at the school once a week, working first with kindergartners on mathematics and computer skills, then with first-graders on art. He has children in those grades.
He said Wednesday was the first time he was there to hear the kindergartners say the Pledge of Allegiance. He thought he heard the word "liberty" removed. But more importantly, he said, was that the pledge was immediately followed by students' recitation of the school creed. In it, students are asked to treat others with respect, follow school and classroom rules and "to try their best." He said he was upset they pledged this while still holding their hands over their hearts and facing the U.S. flag.
There should be a break between the pledges, he said, and students should not be facing the flag. He called it "conditioning a child" to blindly obey authority without knowing what is in the rules they are promising to obey. "In the beginning of the Hitler Youth movement, people made similar promises," McGroarty said.
At the time, McGroarty went to speak with the school principal, but was put off. He returned to the library and continued his work, but then asked a librarian to call the principal. When she refused, he said he told the children: "Children, do not blindly follow to swear allegiance and to follow rules without knowing what they are," and told the children to ask their parents about Nazis.
He then took his children home with him to Rockford. (Their mother has primary custody, but they were supposed to stay with him that night, McGroarty said.) The mother has since obtained an order of protection against McGroarty, and the children were returned to her. McGroarty has been banned from school property.
McGroarty said the district is reacting out of fear in light of the recent school shootings in Connecticut. But he says he is "hypersensitive" to the safety of children, due to his own background (on his Facebook page, he says he was abused as a child.) "For anybody to do that kind of stuff (shooting) to kids just tears me to the bone," he said.
When he emailed school officials that he had "spilled blood before" and would do so again to defend freedom, McGroarty said, he was not threatening violence; he was speaking as a military veteran who had sworn to protect the U.S. and defend its Constitution. Veterans, he said, will understand that.
The sheriff's department is consulting with the Kane County State's Attorney's office to see if any laws may have been broken, or "if it was a parent who probably handled the situation the wrong way," sheriff's spokesman Lt. Pat Gengler said.
A deputy also was stationed at Fabyan Elementary School, also in the Mill Creek subdivision. Gengler noted, however, that the sheriff's department has increased its presence at all schools in unincorporated areas since the Newtown shootings.