On Monday, cheerleaders from a North Carolina high school were put on probation for the remainder of the football season for posing with a Trump 2020 banner before a football game on August 30.
The photo was posted on Facebook, prompting some commenters to take issue; one wrote, “Why in the world would the school board allow this to happen. I am sad and very disappointed with NS. This is a High School football game, not a political rally. Shame on them,” as The Daily Mail noted.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told McClatchy news group that probation is not punishment, but rather, “It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior,” according to the Charlotte Observer. She also said, “One of the rules we have is that every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment. We take that to mean that it’s in an environment where good sportsmanship is shown, where people feel safe…that respect for all people participating is being shown,” according to thesnaponline.
The Stanly County School District issued a statement saying:
We are currently investigating this matter but as of this morning we have determined this was not an act planned or endorsed by the school or its staff. A student attending the event brought the flag into the game, which was not present when entering the gate … Stanly County Schools respects the rights of its students, staff, and visitors to express their opinions in a respectful manner on their own time, however, Stanly County Board of Education policy prohibits the display or distribution of political advertisements on campus or at school events. Further, Stanly County Schools never makes political campaign endorsements. These policies ensure that all students, staff and visitors are able to attend school events in an environment that promotes students and not a particular political viewpoint.
Supporters of the cheerleading squad planned an event on Friday to support them, writing, “The North Stanly High School cheerleaders have been wrongly put on probation by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for the rest of the football season because of holding up a Trump banner before a home game on 8-30-2019. Please come out and help me show the school and the NCHSAA that freedom of speech is not dead. Please bring all your Trump and MAGA gear and let’s throw our support behind the North Stanly High School cheerleaders.”
The Charlotte Observer noted that district officials stated, “This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities. Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign.” The Observer added that the NCHSAA “has not defined the terms of the probation” and the school district stated that the team is expected to continue cheering.
Congressman Richard Hudson of North Carolina’s 9th District sent a letter to the NCHSAA, stating, “I am appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. As leaders, we should be encouraging America’s youth to participate in our democracy and political process — not punishing them and silencing them. These North Stanly students respectfully displayed a sign and took a picture. They did not cause a scene, participate in a protest, or break any school code of conduct … At the end of the day, these students have a First Amendment right to free speech, and the NCHSAA should immediately reconsider thus unfair punishment. I ask this not only as the federal representative of Stanly County, but also as a proud graduate of North Carolina public schools and a former NCHSAA athlete.”