SHAWNEE, Kan. – Officials in the Shawnee Mission School District banned staff from wearing safety pins as a political statement against President-elect Donald Trump, likening the potentially “disruptive” pins to the Confederate flag.
The district issued a joint statement with the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission teachers union on Monday banned safety pins teachers began wearing after the 2016 election after “concerns and complaints regarding political connotations associated with the wearing of safety pins.”
“Recent events require us to remind our employees of their rights and responsibilities. As a staff member, you do not give up your first amendment right to free-speech on matters of public concern. However, your communication inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district and there is a limitation on that speech,” the statement read.
“The wearing of a safety pin as a political statement is the latest example of such political speech. Although wearing the safety pin as political speech is not the problem, any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process. We ask staff members to refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty–unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.”
Superintendent Jim Hinson elaborated on the ban at a school board meeting Monday night, when he compared it to the district’s current ban on the Confederate flag in schools, WLS reports.
Hinson told The Kansas City Star an employee hung a Confederate flag up in one school after the election, and district officials made him remove it because of the symbol’s potential for disruption. He contends the safety pins, which employees linked to a political viewpoint in district emails, could also prove disruptive and divisive.
“We have to treat all political symbols the same,” he said.
Hinson said some employees who did not want to wear a pin have been harassed for not showing solidarity with minorities, immigrants, Muslims and other groups some are convinced Trump opposes.
“We have had to bring employees together because they were so at each other over political views,” he said.
And while the local teachers union stood in support of the safety pin ban, the NEA’s statewide affiliate condemned the ban in a prepared statement Tuesday that vowed to fight for any teacher who is reprimanded for wearing the pins. Kansas NEA officials contend the pins address an increase in bullying of minority students since Trump won the election.
“We want our teachers to feel empowered to ally student fears in whatever professional way they see fit to do that,” Kansas NEA spokesman Marcus Baltzell told the Star. “The disruption starts when the kid walks through your classroom door afraid. It is happening, and teachers have to deal with that.”
Other groups like the ACLU and Kansas Families for Education are also pressuring district officials to do away with the pin ban, claiming it’s not a political statement but rather a humanitarian symbol.
“It is not a partisan political statement, it is a statement of kindness,” according to a petition circulated by Kansas Families for Education. “As patrons of the Shawnee Mission School District, we ask the board members to allow any employees who wish to wear their pins during school hours to be allowed to do so.”
The ACLU is arguing the pins are constitutionally protected free speech.
“Wearing of a safety pin has become a symbol that the wearer is an ally of vulnerable communities, and seeks to create a safe space for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to district officials.
“It is very clear that a Confederate flag in school would be disruptive,” ACLU of Kansas executive director Micah Kubic told the Star. “But the pin is not a political statement; it is being worn by people all across the political spectrum.
“With all due respect Mr. Hinson, you are mistaken in ascribing a political motive to the pin,” he said. “There is nothing disruptive by saying all students are valued and have allies.”