The issue originated from a viral TikTok video from Newport Mesa School District teacher Kristin Pitzen. In the video, Pitzen explains that the Orange County, CA school she works at has students recite the pledge of allegiance during third period and that she allows students to participate in the pledge in any way they see fit.
“I always tell my class, stand if you feel like it, don't stand if you feel like it, say the words if you want, you don't have to say the words,” Pitzen said in the now-deleted clip. When her students chose to stand but not say the words, they expressed that it was “weird” to do so without an American flag present in the room.
Pitzen removed the American flag from her classroom at an earlier date during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying it “made her uncomfortable.” When her students brought up the lack of a flag to pledge to, she searched for it but was unable to find it. Instead, Pitzen joked that her students could recite the pledge to another flag hanging in the room, moving the camera to show a Progress Pride flag displayed on the wall while laughing.
The majority of responses to the original video felt in on the joke, but conservative social media users pounced on the clip, claiming it was evidence of Pitzin pushing an “ungodly social agenda” onto minors in her classroom. Pitzin deleted her TikTok account as the school district's Facebook page became inundated with hateful comments from people calling for Pitzin to be fired.
“Send her to Afghanistan,” wrote one Facebook user. One user posted her home address and phone number, a clear doxxing effort meant to encourage harassment. The doxxing continued as another user posted a picture of what they claimed was Pitzin's home.
The Newport Mesa School District announced Saturday that it launched an investigation into the matter. “On Friday evening, one of our teachers created a personal social media post that caused alarm and concern related to saluting the American flag,” the school district said in a statement. “Showing respect for our nation's flag is an important value our District instills in our students and is an expectation of our employees. We take this matter seriously and are investigating and addressing it.”
The school district's statement was met with similar vitriol. Commenters continued demanding Pitzin's firing, framing her tongue-in-cheek video as an attack on American values and patriotism. Numerous users reiterated that she shuld be sent to Afghanistan “to see how women are treated since she is so uncomfortable to the American flag.”
Speaking to NBC News, a school district spokesperson didn't offer further details on what exactly Pitzin was being investigated for, but did state that the school district has a policy requiring daily “patriotic exercises,” including the pledge of allegiance. The policy also states that any person who doesn't want to participate in the pledge for personal reasons may do so.
“While we do not discuss employee related matters, we can tell you that showing respect and honor for our nation's flag is a value that we instill in our students and an expectation of our employees,” the school district spokesperson said. “We take matters like this seriously and are taking action to address it.”
Pitzin has remained silent in the days since her TikTok spawned the uproar. The school district has not confirmed if she is currently subject to any punishment while its investigation continues.