‘Heightened tensions’ cited in Valley school’s report on ‘MAGA’ incident

Apr 22, 2019, 3:58 PM | Updated: Apr 24, 2019, 12:14 pm
(KTAR News Photo/Jim Cross)...
(KTAR News Photo/Jim Cross)
(KTAR News Photo/Jim Cross)

PHOENIX – A spirit week assembly led to “heightened tensions” at an East Valley high school last month, influencing an incident later in the day that prompted an ongoing inquiry by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

That’s according to a 66-page report compiled by legal counsel for the Chandler Unified School District and submitted to the attorney general earlier this month.

The attorney general’s office told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday it was an ongoing matter and declined to provide a response to the district’s report, which was dated April 8.

A March 1 incident at Perry High School in Gilbert garnered national attention after parents said students were targeted by school officials for their “MAGA” — Make America Great Again — attire and flags with messages supporting President Donald Trump.

The school said only one student was disciplined, and it had nothing to do with her political views. The girl was suspended for three days for failing to identify herself to authorities on school grounds.

That incident, according to the redacted report obtained by ABC15, was preceded by events in which pro-Trump students allegedly harassed other students on “Party in the USA” day, when students were encouraged to dress in red, white and blue clothing.

The report, compiled by Cathleen M. Dooley of the law firm Udall Shumway, includes witness statements from seven students and three school officials as well as a copy of the school’s student code of conduct. The sections of the code pertaining to the girl’s punishment were highlighted in bright yellow.

According to the report, several parents complained about what they described as a “Trump rally” at the school, although officials said the assembly wasn’t a political rally.

One parent called after hearing that a group of seniors chanting Trump slogans had surrounded an African-American student.

Officials who investigated said students “had been putting Trump flags in people’s faces” and calling kids “[expletive] liberals.”

One father, who’d recently moved from Chicago, came to the campus and expressed concern that Perry “might not be a good fit for his student” based on what happened after the assembly.

The complaints were investigated by Dean of Students Clint Beauer and Assistant Principal Heather Patterson, who didn’t find grounds to discipline the students allegedly involved in the chants and offensive statements.

Beauer, however, said he’d been “aware of heightened tensions among students after the assembly,” according to the report.

After school, when authorities tried to disperse a group of students wearing Trump attire and taking photos with a Trump flag on school grounds, the students “showed no signs of preparing to leave.”

The student who was later suspended refused to identify herself to three officials: a school resource officer, Patterson and Principal Dan Serrano.

One student’s mother, Jennifer Farris, went to the media and claimed her daughter and others were told to leave because of their pro-Trump gear.

The story spread nationally, Trump supporters protested outside the school, and Arizona House Republicans sent a letter to the attorney general’s office urging an investigation into potential First Amendment rights violations.

The school has maintained that its actions weren’t related to speech.

“No student was disciplined for wearing Trump attire and no students were told to remove any Trump clothing on that day or any other day,” the report said.

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‘Heightened tensions’ cited in Valley school’s report on ‘MAGA’ incident