COLUMBIA, S.C. — A video of a girl walking to class during the Pledge of Allegiance at River Bluff High School is now at the center of a federal lawsuit.
According to the suit, the incident happened in November of 2022 at River Bluff, which is Lexington School District One, and involved 15-year-old Marissa Barnwell. Barnwell's family and attorney held a news conference Thursday regarding their legal actions, and released a video taken by cameras inside River Bluff that they say shows the incident.
In the video you see Barnwell walking down a hallway at around 8:40 a.m. while the Pledge of Allegiance plays over the school speakers. (The Pledge is played daily over the intercom system).
Once Barnwell rounds the corner she is stopped by an instructional assistant.
"She pushes me into a wall then she snatches my ID and says she's going to report me to the office," Marissa Barnwell explained. "I'm just confused and like 'get your hands off of me, get your hands off of me', you can hear me say that in the video. I was just in disbelief, I had never expected something like that to happen to me."
Due to this interaction, the Barnwell family is now filing a federal lawsuit against the Lexington One School District and the State Department of Education.
Barnwell’s parents were stunned at what they saw, and say this goes beyond their daughter not stopping to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I just can't believe this has happened. Why would a teacher, you can see it in the video, why would the teacher single out my daughter when you could clearly see that other students are walking in this video," said her father, Shavell Barnwell.
The family’s lawyer, Tyler Bailey, says Barnwell had a constitutional right to not stop for the pledge.
“The thing that's beautiful about America is that we have freedom. We have freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and students in our schools should feel safe, they should not feel threatened for exercising their constitutional rights," Bailey stated.
The Lexington One School District policy also states that students do not have to participate in the pledge.
As for the school employee, who Bailey says allegedly touched Barnwell and backed her onto a wall, the Lexington One School District says she is still employed at River Bluff High School.
According to the Town of Lexington Police Department, the employee has not been arrested or charged with anything in regard to this incident.
As for when this lawsuit will play out in court, that date is still unknown. The Barnwell family’s lawyer says lawyers involved in the case will have a conference, there will be a research period into the case, and another opportunity for the school district to work with the family.