EPPING — An Epping High School student who was asked to cover up her “Make America Great Again” Trump T-shirt is ready for the school district to move forward and learn from her principal’s mistake.
After several days of criticism and questions surrounding Principal Brian Ernest’s decision, 15-year-old Ciretta MacKenzie joined nearly 150 people who attended Thursday night’s school board meeting to address concerns about the incident on April 8’s “America Day,” a time when students put their patriotic colors on display.
Ciretta has accepted the principal’s apology and said she was proud of how the community came together to talk about the incident in a civil manner at the meeting.
“I do respect my principal. Even though I do not agree with the decision he made, I do still love him and I do still believe in giving people second chances. I’m very proud of our whole entire community, that everyone can come together and not be angry and not be haters,” she said.
The board held an hour-long public forum for residents and non-residents to share their views on a decision that created a firestorm and prompted apologies from Ernest and Superintendent Valerie McKenney.
Some carried flags and wore their red “Make America Great Again” gear.
In response to the incident, school board Chairman Deborah Brooks said McKenney made a recommendation to the board “regarding this personnel issue,” but it couldn’t be discussed in public at this time.
McKenney said “appropriate action has been implemented” and that policy decisions will be made in the future to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Despite the fiery rhetoric and attacks on Ernest seen on social media in the wake of the controversy, Thursday’s forum was civil.
Many felt it was Ciretta’s mother, Rose MacKenzie, who set the tone when she spoke at the beginning of the meeting.
She urged civility, tolerance and respect, three concepts that she said are becoming “dangerously close to extinction.”
“In an effort to prevent Ciretta from any harassment, he asked Ciretta to cover the shirt,” she said. “We have known Mr. Ernest for four years now and have always found him to be reasonable and easy to work with. I understand that although it was not the way I would have preferred it to be handled, his intent was pure: to protect my daughter.
“He has sincerely apologized to us as well as to the community for the decision he made that day,” she said, adding that the apology was accepted.
MacKenzie said other schools should learn from their experience and that she and her daughter plan to attend diversity training with other students and faculty.
She said she would also like to see an initiative focused on nonpartisan politics being taught in schools.
“It is imperative that all viewpoints are taught so that when it comes time for them to vote, our kids can assess where they are on the political spectrum and make informed decisions on who they’re voting for,” MacKenzie said.
Some who spoke voiced concern about Ciretta’s First Amendment rights being violated and insisted that all students should feel comfortable to express their viewpoints.
“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats or Independents. This is about the Constitution of the United States that applies to all residents of the United States,” said Epping resident Cody Belanger, who also serves on the board of selectmen.
Robert Hodgman of Epping wore a “Make America Great Again” hat and a shirt with stars and stripes that he said his son wore and had no problem. He encouraged any students with Trump shirts to wear them regularly.
“Wear it loud and wear it proud,” he said.
Londonderry state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican who co-chaired Trump’s national veterans’ coalition, commended the principal for admitting the mistake and the overall tone of the forum.
“You all set the example here,” he said.
Faith Williamson, a 16-year-old junior who serves as a student representative on the school board, said she respects Ernest and even though he apologized, “students had to watch as people were saying terrible things about a principal we respect.”
She urged people to think twice before posting comments.
“We’ve always been taught that everyone makes mistakes and if somebody apologizes always give them a second chance,” she said.