A Georgia school district has apologized after one of its teachers asked two high school students wearing “Make America Great Again” T-shirts to leave her classroom.
The incident took place at River Ridge High School on Aug. 31, when a teacher “erroneously told two students their shirts with campaign slogans were not permitted in class,” Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara P. Jacoby said.
“Her actions were wrong, as the ‘Make America Great Again’ shirts worn by the students are not a violation of our School District dress code,” Jacoby said in a statement. “The teacher additionally – and inappropriately – shared her personal opinion about the campaign slogan during class.”
Classes at the school in Woodstock, about 30 miles north of Atlanta, had started Aug. 1. It is unclear who reported the incident to the teacher’s supervisors, though student video of the exchange soon began circulating on social media, according to the International Business Times.
The principal at River Ridge “immediately met with and apologized to these students and their families,” Jacoby said. She added district superintendent Brian V. Hightower was “deeply sorry that this incident happened in one of our schools; it does not reflect his expectation that all students be treated equally and respectfully by our employees.”
Shortly after the incident, someone started a Change.org petition calling for the teacher in question to resign. The district did not identify the teacher and said it could not discuss disciplinary action taken against an employee. However, Jacoby noted the students who wore the shirts faced no disciplinary action.
“The Superintendent also is instructing all Principals to meet with their teachers and staff to review the dress code and remind them that their political opinions should not be shared with students,” she said.
The incident drew sharp criticism from some Georgia officials.
“It’s just shocking – you can’t do that to kids,” Republican state Rep. Earl Ehrhart told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s so wrong on so many levels. That individual doesn’t need to be anywhere near a classroom ever again.”
Republican state Rep. John Carson, whose district includes River Ridge High School, told the newspaper in an email it was attempt to silence conservative free speech.
It’s not the first time a school has drawn controversy over action taken against political displays in the classroom.
Last August, Mariah Havard wore a shirt emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” to picture day at her high school in Buckeye, Arizona. In a widely shared Facebook post, Havard said she was told her shirt was “disruptive in a learning environment” and was asked to change into a plain white T-shirt. A week later, after another student at the school was asked to remove a “Black Lives Matter shirt,” a small group of students staged a walkout over the incidents.
“We’re not trying to start a race war,” Genesis Santoyo, Havard’s friend, told the Arizona Republic. “We’re trying to end one.”
During the presidential campaign, Grant Berardo, then a high school junior in central New Jersey, wore a “TRUMP Make America Great Again!” shirt on picture day. When his yearbook arrived, however, he noticed his photo had been edited so the campaign slogan was missing, leaving a plain black shirt. Outraged, Berardo’s parents accused Wall Township public schools of censorship.
In a statement, the superintendent of the Wall Township school district said they were “equally outraged” and did not condone the “disturbing” yearbook edits. The high school’s yearbook adviser was later suspended.