SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland High School’s faculty has overwhelmingly approved a formal procedure for saying the Pledge of Allegiance that was proposed by students whose efforts sparked a national controversy in February.

The faculty leadership committee, representing 12 departments, unanimously approved the new pledge procedure proposed by senior class President Lily SanGiovanni and two friends. SanGiovanni is expected to adopt the new procedure Thursday morning, when she’ll say over the intercom, “I now invite you to rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The faculty voted after SanGiovanni, Gaby Ferrell and Morrigan Turner delivered a formal presentation of the new procedure two weeks ago that included the results of an online petition signed by 86 students who supported the proposal.

“The faculty was impressed by the girls’ presentation,” Principal Ryan Caron said. “The petition showed there were more voices involved in support of this change.”

The faculty’s approval ends several months of controversy over the students’ effort to make it clear that participation in the pledge is optional under the law. SanGiovanni, Ferrell and Turner were concerned that they and other students had felt pressured or compelled by teachers to participate in the morning ritual.

“It’s very exciting,” SanGiovanni said Wednesday. “I’m super happy that the (faculty) agreed with our proposal. I think the compromise we made in the end they realized was really reasonable.”

The high school had no written procedure for reciting the pledge each day – a practice that resumed at the high school following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The faculty leadership team rejected the students’ proposal last fall to stop saying the pledge over the intercom but allow time during morning announcements when students could say the pledge in their classrooms.

SanGiovanni upset some faculty and community members in January when she added “if you’d like to” at the end of her daily request to join her for the pledge. The girls experienced a strong local backlash on social media before SanGiovanni stopped saying “if you’d like to” at Caron’s request. News of the girls’ thwarted effort then drew a national firestorm of news and commentary in both opposition and support.

“I think it was a bigger story outside the high school than at the high school,” Caron said. “I think many people were taken aback by the negativity directed at the girls. I heard (from people) from 30 states.”

In developing a new proposal, the girls dropped “if you’d like to” in favor of more neutral language that still tells students they are being invited – not ordered – to participate, SanGiovanni said.

The procedure stipulates that “all staff and students are expected to remain quiet and respectful for the duration of the recitation of the pledge.”

It also says that “a student may not be compelled by any staff member to participate in the pledge in any way that the student does not wish to, regardless of a staff member’s individual beliefs about the pledge.”

Participation is defined to include standing, placing a hand over the heart, reciting the pledge or any other action.

Caron said the pledge procedure will be added to the student handbook and incorporated into the back-to-school orientation program, when teachers review rules such as the dress code and the attendance process.

Caron noted that the whole experience has proven to be a learning opportunity for many people on subjects such as the pledge, the political process, the varying perspectives of others and the media.

“Society as a whole is more open and sharing information is more immediate,” Caron said. “It’s great that we have students who want to make change and are willing to study an issue and follow it through.”