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Parents accuse teacher of shoving their 15-year-old child for not reciting Pledge of Allegiance in school

An honor roll student at River Bluff High School in South Carolina was roughed up and her constitutional rights violated, the family's lawsuit claims.
Marissa Barnwell, left, with parents Fynale Barnwell and Shavell Barnwell during a press conference
Marissa Barnwell, left, with parents Fynale Barnwell and Shavell Barnwell.WIS

A South Carolina high school teacher allegedly roughed up an honor roll student after the teenager quietly refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the youngster, her parents and attorney said Thursday.

Marissa Barnwell, 15, was walking in the hallway on her way to class at River Bluff High School on Nov. 29 when the pledge was being recited on the campus intercom system, according to the family's federal lawsuit.

While some students stopped to observe the patriotic ceremony, Barnwell "elected to continue walking to her class and refrain from" reciting the pledge, the family claimed.

As she walked "silently in a non-disruptive manner to her class," special education teacher Nicole Livingston violated the ninth-grader's "constitutional rights by yelling and demanding that M.B. stop walking and physically assaulting her by pushing M.B., on the wall and forcefully touching M.B., in an unwanted way without her consent," the federal complaint said.

River Bluff High School in Lexington, S.C.
River Bluff High School in Lexington, S.C.Google Maps

Barnwell said she wasn't the only student walking in the hallway who didn't stop for the pledge. The student said she didn't recognize the teacher who was saying "stop" and assumed Livingston was talking to someone else.

"She grabs me by my shoulders and starts to push me up against the wall and she like, she snaps my ID and she's like she's going to report me to the office," the student told reporters on Thursday.

"And I'm just confused I'm like, 'Get your hands off me, get your hands off me.' You can hear me say that in the video (of the confrontation). I was just in disbelief. I had never expected something like that to happened to me while being at school."

The girl's parents, Fynale and Shavell Barnwell, said they asked principal Jacob Smith to take action against Livingston but nothing came of it.

Livingston was still listed on the school's faulty roster on Friday.

"They saw the video, they saw this lady attack my child and still there has not been anything, that we are aware of, that has been done to this teacher," the girl's mother Fynale Barnwell said.

While state law requires pledge to be recited every day at school, the code also states that no one should be "penalized for failing to participate" as long as non-participation does not "disrupt school activities."

The youngster has regularly not participated in the pledge, family lawyer Tyler Bailey said.

"She's conscious of the injustices going on in the country," Bailey told NBC News on Friday. "She's conscious of the words and she delivered her actions. And she wasn't being disruptive. She was just going to class."

The Lexington School District One, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, the South Carolina Department of Education, Smith and Livingston are all named as defendants.

"Because this is an ongoing legal matter, the only information I can provide at this time is that the attorney representing the district is working on a response to the lawsuit," according to a statement by the district's chief communications officer,  Elizabeth “Libby” D. Roof. "The response will be filed in the coming weeks."

Livingston, Smith and a representative of the state education department could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.