by Dana Buckley
It was truly sad and disturbing news to learn of the recent incident at Epping High School which involved a student being told by the school principal that she could not wear a shirt bearing the name of our nation’s current president while in school. The student was quoted in the Union Leader as stating that the principal told her “Trump is a controversial President and that he didn’t want the shirt to make anyone feel uncomfortable in school.”
At the most recent Epping School Board meeting, it was mentioned several times that the principal’s decision was made not out of some personal political bias but out of fear that the student would be harassed, bullied, and intimidated by other students who did not care for her shirt. What does this say about the Epping School District that some students would feel completely uninhibited in behaving this way toward other students of different political persuasions?
Obviously, those students who would engage in such behavior have no concern about being held accountable for their harassment by the Epping School District staff. As an outsider looking in one has to wonder what kind of toxic, intolerant, biased culture exists within the Epping School District. One must also wonder if this sort of atmosphere of politically motivated biased hostility exists within other NH school districts and has not yet been brought to light.
It is alarming that the principal of Epping High School, out of fear, chose to capitulate to those who would bully and harass rather than stand up for a student whose only transgression was believing she had the First Amendment right as an American to peacefully and quietly express her personal support of our nation’s president during the school day.
This exhibition of cowardice has no place in New Hampshire’s public schools and does not comport with the rights of students as the US Constitution provides students with the right to express themselves while in school. There exists no right in the US Constitution, statutory law or common law to silence individuals because their expressed views, values or beliefs may be deemed offensive or thought to make some “uncomfortable,” that could possibly be used as a justification of the principal’s actions.
New Hampshire school staff, administrators and boards should do their utmost to protect and honor the First Amendment rights of all New Hampshire public school students to express themselves while in school without respect to personal political views or any other personally defining beliefs or characteristics. To that end, all NH School districts should immediately endeavor to create policy safeguarding the First Amendment rights of students and strive to do more than pay lip service to the notions of tolerance and respect for the opinions and beliefs of all.