San Francisco school board president starts meeting with poetry, not Pledge of Allegiance

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The San Francisco school board’s new president began his first school board meeting with poetry.

That wouldn’t be so unusual except for the fact that Stevon Cook was breaking with protocol on Tuesday night by purposely omitting to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

In its place, Cook quoted from the poet Maya Angelou: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

And then, without any fanfare from any of his trustees on the dias or a bat of an eyelash from anyone in the crowd, Cook began by listing of what was next in section A on the agenda.

"This thing we did took less than 10 seconds to do," Cook said on Thursday. "It's been really a lot of the focus of the day." 

“There are a lot of ways to express gratitude and appreciation for the country and its citizens,” Cook  told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday. “This is how I plan to do that.”

Cook, who holds a degree in American history from Williams College, told the Chronicle that he chose not to enforce the pledge because of his disappointment with the political climate. He said the Trump administration “has been attacking our liberties.”

"I think that people are upset and and it's based on this idea that I don't respect or love the country. Then I think they've completely misunderstood me," Cook said. 

State education code requires schools to conduct a daily patriotic exercise — although no one is required to participate, and many schools skip it because it is rarely if ever enforced — but that law doesn’t extend to public meetings, district officials said.

In addition, Cook told the Chronicle said he believes the historical context for the pledge has been lost on most people.

“If you ask 10 Americans who wrote it, or when it was implemented, or why it is how we start our meetings, a lot of us would be hard pressed (to answer),” he told the paper.

Cook, who is CEO of Mission Bit, said he plans to select quotes or the writings of a range of inspirational Americans, including writer Toni Morrison, gay rights icon Harvey Milk and novelist James Baldwin. He said he's open to suggestion on who and what should be read. 

KTVU's Paul Chambers contributed to this report