North Dakota school board gave into hate reinstating Pledge of Allegiance, official says

After being called a slave in a voicemail, Nyamal Dei cast the lone no vote to reinstate the pledge

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A Sudanese refugee who sits on the school board in North Dakota’s most populous city at a special meeting on Thursday played a voicemail of a man calling her a salve and accused her colleagues of giving into hate when board members acted to reverse course on its decision to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at monthly meetings.

Nyamal Dei, who fled war-torn Sudan, was also referred to as a racist and Nazi in the profanity-laced message. It was among numerous angry emails and voicemails that dominated the special meeting of the Fargo Board of Education to reconsider the vote.

The school board reinstated the pledge following complaints from conservative lawmakers and an angry backlash from citizens around the country.

Fargo Board of Education member Nyamal Dei (credit: Fargo Public Schools)

Dei said reversing the decision would be giving in to hate. She paused for several seconds before casting the lone no vote to reinstate the pledge.

“We won’t be rewarding our children or students in our district for acting in this way,” Dei said. “But know that this moment will pass. Let’s get back to the work that we are elected to do and that is to find a solution to our teacher shortages, mental health issues and academic achievement for our students.”

Seven of the nine members of the Fargo Board of Education, including four newcomers who took office in June, voted last week to cancel a previous board edict that was approved a couple of months before the election. The new board agreed with member Seth Holden, who said the pledge did not align with the district’s diversity and inclusion code in part because the phrase “under God” does not include all faiths.

Dei is likely the first Black person elected to office in the history of Fargo, according to local TV station KVRR. Fargo Public Schools was founded in 1874.

Fargo is a city of nearly 127,000 people with roughly 8% identifying as Black, Census data show.

North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum earlier this week promoted new legislation that would require public schools and governing bodies to administer the pledge without mandating that people recite it. Republican state Rep. Pat Heinert, a retired county sheriff, is suggesting that sanctions be put in place for public boards and commissions that don’t require the patriotic oath.

Following the special meeting, city of Fargo spokesman Gregg Schildberger said police are investigating what he called a “handful” of reports related to perceived threats to at least three members of the board.

Board member Greg Clark said he broke down his angry messages and found that less than 20% came from Fargo. He acknowledged his vote to bring back the pledge was influenced by people he does not represent.

“But I hope you’ll forgive me because I truly believe it is in the best interest of our schools to do so,” Clark said. “The disruptions and the threats must end so that we can have a successful start to our school year.”

Nyamal Dei, a school board member in Fargo, N.D., is greeted by Vietnam veteran David Halcrow following a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, to reconsider a decision by the previous board to eliminate reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

Holden, who made the motion to cancel the pledge, said he struggled with his decision but was heartbroken over the abusive comments and worried about the image of the board.

“I’m also concerned about what might happen to this board in the future because we’re going to have to probably be prepared to take more heat than we normally do for decisions that we make,” he said, “because that there may be a perception of success.”

Public comment was not allowed at the special meeting, attended by about two dozen citizens. A handful of them clapped after the vote. One of them, Vietnam veteran David Halcrow, apologized to Dei after the meeting.

“What was done to her … those people need to be in the clink,” said Halcrow. “It if were up me, they would be in jail. There’s no excuse for that kind of thing.”

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