ESCONDIDO — Local high school students are asking an Escondido City Council member to apologize after he allegedly questioned their citizenship status when they didn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance following a council meeting last month.
According to a group of students who attend different high schools in the city, the incident occurred after the Nov. 15 council meeting as they packed up to leave the council chambers.
Senior at Del Lago Academy Angela Calderon Pio claimed that Councilmember Mike Morasco approached her and her fellow students, who were all people of color, and allegedly inquired as to their citizenship.
“(Morasco) came up to us and asked if we were citizens without any context – a group of students who are POC that historically have had their citizenship doubted. So right off the bat, we felt it was hostile and we felt disrespected,” Calderon Pio told The Coast News.
After the initial shock of the question, the students told Morasco they were born and raised in Escondido.
According to Calderon Pio, Morasco then asked why they didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting, stating that it was disrespectful to active-duty military and veterans.
Calderon Pio, along with fellow Del Lago senior Michelle Cortez, San Pasqual High School junior Derek Lam and another high school student, had chosen not to recite the pledge earlier that evening.
“Derek and I stood up because we didn’t want to stick out like sore thumbs, but we didn’t say the pledge because our country has not reflected our beliefs,” Calderon Pio said.
The students were seated toward the back of the room and said they weren’t disruptive throughout the meeting.
For some of the students, who are seeking to become more civically engaged in the community and city government, it was the first time they had ever gone to a council meeting. After the incident, some don’t want to return.
“It made me not want to go back,” Lam said.
Still, Lam and the others returned to council chambers on Dec. 6 to ask for an apology from Morasco and for the rest of the council to hold him accountable.
“How can an elected official act in this manner, especially to a group of kids who also happen to be all people of color? Well, to answer your question, Morasco, yes, I am a U.S. citizen and I’m proud to be born and raised by refugee parents who fled during the Vietnam War to seek a better life for future generations,” Lam told Morasco and the rest of City Council on Dec. 6. “My parents have always taught me to speak up for myself and I’m doing exactly that.”
Calderon Pio noted that choosing not to say the Pledge of Allegiance is legal.
“We have the freedom to choose whether or not to recite the pledge,” she said. “It is a personal choice and should not be indicative of undemocratic values. If anything, it is us using the values that our forefathers granted us.”
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students cannot be forced to salute or pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag.
Cortez asked Morasco and the City Council for apologies and accountability.
“What Councilmember Morasco did was highly inappropriate and was a way to intimidate young adults,” Cortez said. “That should not be taken lightly, as young adults are the future of Escondido.”
While Morasco did not publicly apologize to the students at the Dec. 6 meeting, he asked to meet with them afterward to clear up the “misunderstanding” regarding what happened.
Morasco has not returned The Coast News’ requests for comment regarding the alleged incident.
Morasco, who has been a council member for 13 years, is not planning to run for reelection next year.