BRADENTON, Fla. - About two dozen people gathered outside Manatee County School District headquarters to protest the district's stance on kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem.
Students and advocacy groups planned the rally after an email was sent to school athletic directors, reminding coaches and staff about the district's policy requiring student athletes to stand during the National Anthem before games.
"We're taking a knee because America's hurt and we want to recognize that," Briana Lutzi said.
Lakewood Ranch High sophomore Brendan Mendel got a hands-on civics lesson, outside the of the classroom Tuesday night.
"This country allows what I'm doing in the Constitution and so it is my right as an American citizen to free speech," Mendel said.
Mendel says he took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance several times last year with no issues from staff.
School district officials tell ABC Action News, students under 18 must stand, unless a parent notifies the school in writing.
"I struggle to understand, if you can drop out of high school at 16 without your parent's permission, why can't you take a knee," asked Brendan's mother, Bridget Mendel.
"If a student is going to take a stand like that, that it's important for them to discuss it with their parents, to find out, so they can express their reasons," said district spokesperson, Michael Barber.
Two counter-protesters showed up to the rally holding signs stating, "Stand for the Anthem." Permission slip or not, Manatee County resident Yaya Stanford believes silent protests have no place in public schools.
"If we aren't bringing up our children in our school systems united, as Americans, then we're going to divide and fall," Stanford warned.