Randolph High School

70 Memorial Parkway, Randolph

Screenshot from The New York Times website. Photo caption reads: “Susan Shapiro standing outside Randolph, Mass., High School. ‘The flag don’t mean nothing,’ she said.”

On the second day of the 1984 school year, Randolph High School senior Susan Shapiro remained seated in her homeroom while her fellow students stood for the daily playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom system. Her homeroom teacher ordered Shapiro to stand. Motivated not by a particular politics, but by her view that the U.S. flag is an unimportant symbol which no one should be coerced to honor, Shapiro did stand that day. The next day, however, she invoked her constitutional right to stay in her seat.

Some students in the high school began insulting and taunting Shapiro as she continued her refusal to stand during the daily ritual. Meanwhile, some in the Randolph community fanned the flames. Gerald Rumbos, commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, for example, stated: “You can do anything you want in this country, but if you don’t stand up for the flag, you don’t belong in this country.” Matters intensified when, in November 1984, a local newspaper reported the story, which led to national media coverage. Shapiro and her family then became the targets of large amounts of hate mail and phone calls, many of them very threatening and overtly anti-Semitic. As such, her family pulled Susan out of school for fear of her safety.

Shapiro received support from many—including the American Civil Liberties Union, numerous Vietnam War veterans, and singer Joan Baez. She also had the backing of the U.S. Supreme Court: a 1943 decision (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett) regarding the expulsion from school of a Jehovah’s Witness for refusing to salute the flag established that such refusal is a form of free speech.

A few weeks after the controversy exploded, Shapiro returned to Randolph High School. In the face of ongoing harassment, Shapiro’s parents filed a suit on her behalf—against her homeroom teacher, school officials, and the Town of Randolph—in the U.S. District Court in Boston seeking a court order affirming her right not to participate in the nationalist ritual.

In mid-June 1985, the superintendent of Randolph’s public school system and her homeroom teacher expressed regret for what had transpired. On the same day, the Shapiro family dropped the lawsuit, Susan’s right to refuse effectively upheld.

Getting there:

A MBTA bus from Ashmont Station (Red Line) stops close to the high school.

To learn more:

Nat Hentoff, Boston Boy, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.  

Peter Mancusi, “Randolph Senior Drop Suit Against School and Town, The Boston Globe, June 15, 1985.

David Margolick, “Taking a Stand Against Standing for the Pledge of Allegiance,” The New York Times, November 30, 1984.

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