East Valley high school students, parents protest over pro-Trump gear
PHOENIX — A small group of students and parents at an East Valley high school protested Monday morning over allegations that officials disciplined teenagers for donning pro-President Donald Trump attire.
But school officials said the students were instead reprimanded for creating a safety concern on campus last week.
Perry High School, near Queen Creek Road and Val Vista Drive in Gilbert, made headlines after parents claimed Friday that administrators made students remove clothing and accessories that donned the “Make America Great Again” saying.
Jennifer Ferris told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Monday that her children were among those who were disciplined.
She said the teenagers were wearing a “MAGA” hat and a sweatshirt and were taking pictures with a pro-Trump flag when they were brought to the office and told to leave campus.
But Principal Dan Serrano said in a letter sent to parents that the students were not “disciplined for expressing their political viewpoints or wearing political attire.”
He said they were instead penalized for “carrying political signage [during the lunch hour that] caused a disruption and created safety concern.”
Serrano said unidentified students were asked to put away the signage and complied, but unveiled it again after school ended “in a manner that again caused concern for student safety.”
The students also refused to leave campus when asked and refused to provide their names and school identification.
“Our administration has not and will not discipline a student for lawfully exercising their free speech rights,” part of the letter from Serrano read.
“Students may lawfully be held accountable for complying with the district’s lawful policies, administrative regulations and expectations for student conduct set forth in the Student Handbook,” it continued.
“It is our responsibility to maintain a safe campus and ensure there are no disruptions to the educational environment. Students or visitors who refuse to comply with administration and law enforcement may be asked to leave the campus when the administration deems it in the best interest of safety, security and effective school operations.”
An updated statement released by Chandler Unified School District on Thursday afternoon said the administration asked that the banner be put away “when the students engaged in a verbal altercation and the administration was concerned that it would escalate.”
The district said it “adheres to constitutional principles and prevailing case law” when addressing student attire and does not have a policy that directly addresses political attire.
But students are expected to — under federal and state laws, as well as district policies and the student handbook — refrain from conduct that could cause a disruption with school and identify themselves to officials when requested to do so.
“While the district is not able to share more specific information about specific students due to privacy laws that make such disclosure unlawful, it believes that it acted in accordance with applicable laws and its own policies, regulations and rules in the handling of this matter.”
Ferris said if the attire was instead pro-President Barack Obama or pro-President George Bush, “I don’t think it would have been made into the big deal that it was.”
But she said she hopes the Arizona Attorney General’s office launches an investigation into the school and district over what happened.