Three South Portland High School students asked the faculty leadership team Thursday to adopt a written policy making it clear that participation in the Pledge of Allegiance is optional under the law.

Senior class President Lily SanGiovanni upset some faculty and community members in January when she added “if you’d like to” to her daily intercom invitation to say the pledge. SanGiovanni, backed by friends Gaby Ferrell and Morrigan Turner, were concerned that they and other students had felt pressured or compelled by teachers to participate in the morning ritual.

The girls delivered a formal presentation Thursday afternoon before the 12-member leadership team – the same panel that rejected a similar proposal from the girls last fall. All three are top students who are heading to competitive colleges after graduation. The girls made a 15-minute presentation, answered a few questions, then left the teachers to deliberate.

“Overall, I think it was a good meeting,” SanGiovanni said Thursday evening. “One of the teachers sent me an email afterward. He said there was some lively discussion, whatever that means.”

The high school currently has no written policy for how reciting the pledge should be handled each day.

The girls experienced a strong local backlash on social media after SanGiovanni altered her morning invitation slightly, saying “would you please rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance, if you’d like to.” SanGiovanni dropped the four added words at the principal’s request. News of the girls’ thwarted effort drew a national firestorm of opposition and support.

The written policy that the girls proposed Thursday calls for the person who leads the pledge to say this: “Good morning, I now invite you to rise and join me for the Pledge of Allegiance.”

The girls decided to drop “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 proposed policy goes on to stipulate 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.

The girls have asked that the proposed policy be posted in the principal’s office and that the school community be reminded of the policy at the start of each school year. SanGiovanni said 86 students had signed an online petition supporting the proposal.

She said it’s unclear when the leadership team will vote on the proposal, though she expects its members to discuss the matter with faculty members in coming weeks.

Even if the leadership team rejects the girls’ latest proposal, SanGiovanni said, Principal Ryan Caron told the girls that he would incorporate educational information about the pledge into back-to-school activities so faculty and students know that participation is optional under state and federal law.

“Hopefully, the wording will be approved,” SanGiovanni said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.