A Mississippi high school administrator recently told a student to remove his face mask supporting President Donald Trump because it's a "political" statement while teachers and other students were permitted to wear items supporting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ causes, legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom said.
What are the details?
ADF said it sent a letter Tuesday on behalf of Northwest Rankin High School junior David Ferguson saying that on or about Sept. 30 assistant principal Lewis Bradford pulled Ferguson aside in a hallway and told him to remove his "Trump 2020 - Keep America Great!" face mask since it amounts to a "political" statement.
Ferguson complied, the letter said, because he didn't want to get into trouble. But ADF pointed out that "apparently, other students and teachers are allowed to wear face masks and other clothing with political messages without reprimand — including messages supporting Biden, BLM, and rainbow masks."
The letter also stated that dress code policy doesn't prohibit Ferguson from wearing the pro-Trump face mask — only items with "suggestive, obscene, disruptive, or vulgar designs, pictures, symbols, slogans, or statements that cause a disruption to or detract from the educational process."
What else did ADF have to say?
ADF requested that the district respond Tuesday by allowing Ferguson to wear the face mask and any other items with similar messages, revise policy to prohibit staff from engaging in viewpoint discrimination, and provide First Amendment training to staff.
"Public schools have a duty to respect the free expression of students that the First Amendment guarantees to them," said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton, who penned the letter. "While school administrators face challenges in helping students navigate school life while wearing masks at this time, they simply can't suspend the First Amendment or arbitrarily pick and choose the messages that students can or can't express. Other students within the school district have freely worn masks and shirts with political messages, including symbols supporting other political candidates, the LGBTQ community, and the words 'Black Lives Matter.' This student deserves an equal opportunity to peacefully express his beliefs."
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, added that "no public school student should be singled out for peacefully expressing his political position or sharing his beliefs with fellow students. Today's students will be tomorrow's legislators, judges, educators, and voters. That's why it's so important that public schools demonstrate the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students."
What did the district have to say?
Officials with the Rankin County School District on Wednesday issued the following statement to TheBlaze:
All Rankin County School District administrators, including Northwest Rankin High School Assistant Principal Lewis Bradford, have taken steps to follow the Rankin County School District Smart Restart Plan along with the RCSD Dress Code for Students Policy (JCDB). These policies are designed to prevent distractions to the educational process and to maintain a non disruptive learning environment.
The Rankin County School District's intention was not to prevent freedom of speech. We believe free speech is paramount and should be equal and on par with a student's quality education. Administrators in the Rankin County School District have applied the policy equally and fairly and always do this in favor of free speech. We absolutely have not discriminated against any one party or viewpoint in favor of another.
RCSD will continue to follow its primary dress code policy JCDB with one temporary adjustment to the Smart Restart Plan. This adjustment will allow students to wear masks/clothing with "writing", unless the writing actually becomes "disruptive to or detracts from the educational process". This adjustment will be allowed for all students on a temporary basis until the school board can review the existing dress code policy.
Students who are Trump supporters have had their share of obstacles of late:
- An administrator at Georgia elementary school asked a student to remove most of his Trump costume for "Super Hero Day" late last month. The boy's costume included a "Trump 2020" hat, a Trump flag as a cape, and a red T-shirt with a blue "T" on it.
- A New Jersey public high school teacher in October ordered a student to take down a Trump 2020 flag hanging in his room that was visible during an online class — or leave the virtual session.
- A Tacoma, Washington, teacher reportedly berated a 10-year-old student who recently revealed during a virtual class that Trump is the person he most admires.
- A northern California high school teacher recently threatened to kick a student out of a virtual class unless he removed a Trump 2020 flag from his camera background.
- A California public school teacher was caught on video in September telling his students that those who say "Make America Great Again" — the slogan from Trump's 2016 campaign — actually mean "make it kinda racist and sexist again."
This story has been updated.
(H/T: The College Fix)