SPALDING COUNTY, Ga. - Austin Everett said he, his sister and several Griffin High School classmates were not allowed to participate in See You at the Pole Day, a national event observed by students in prayer around school flag poles across the United States.
"I felt violated as a Christian and as a student," Everett told FOX 5' Portia Bruner.
The 17-year-old senior said based on the student handbook, he thought he followed the rules for leading the prayer Wednesday morning: No direct school staff involvement and no activity after the start of class. Still, he said the assistant principal refused to let the group step outside to these flag poles at around 7:15 a.m.
"He said we had to organize a student group, get a school sponsor and then get approval from the [Spalding County] Board of Education. All we wanted to do was participate in an event that's been going on here for years," Everett said. "This nation is hurting right now and we need to pray."
Everett's mother is disappointed.
"I was so hurt. You equip your children to be strong and courageous and to be faithful. Then someone stops them from praying. It just breaks a mama's heart," Kristy Everett said about her son's situation.
The Everetts are frustrated because students at other Spalding County schools were allowed to pray at the poles. FOX 5 News obtained photos from Kennedy Middle School and Spalding High School showing the planned event going on as scheduled. Spalding High School sophomore Kaylee Shelton was there and said no one ordered the students to stop.
"We sang, we prayed and read a short scripture. It felt good to be out there with all the other kids who were being so faithful and courageous," Shelton said.
Spalding County School District spokeswoman Judy Parker confirmed students from several schools participated in the national event and said administrators were made aware in advance of See You at the Pole Day.
"This student didn't tell the administrators at Griffin in advance. If we had known, we would have been prepared. But if they don't know, they can't just let a bunch of students out of school," Parker said. "A head's up would have been nice," she added. "We are not opposed to what they're doing; we just need to know in advance."
Austin Everett said he did make the students' intentions clear and hopes there will be another opportunity to pray at the poles.
"All we want to do is pray for our school, our county and our country. We don't do this to be seen, but we don't mind being seen doing it. All we want to do is be a light in this community," said Everett.