EPPING — High school freshman Ciretta MacKenzie didn’t think it would be a problem if she wore her President Trump T-shirt on Monday. After all, it was a day when students were encouraged to celebrate American pride by showing off their red, white and blue.
“I thought for America Day it would be OK and there wouldn’t be an issue,” said Ciretta, who turns 15 next week.
But the shirt, which said “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” across the front, resulted in her being called to the principal’s office. Ciretta said she was told by Epping High School Principal Brian Ernest that she wasn’t in trouble, but that she needed to find a different shirt.
She said Ernest told her that Trump is a controversial President and that he didn’t want the shirt to make anyone feel uncomfortable in school. She said he explained that the school didn’t want to make the day political.
Ciretta told Ernest that she understood, but at the same time, said Trump is still the President.
When she asked what would happen if she couldn’t find a different shirt to wear, Ciretta said she was told that she might have to be separated from the rest of the students.
“I wasn’t upset. I was just kind of surprised, I guess,” she said.
While violating school dress code policy can result in an in-school suspension, Ciretta didn’t think the shirt could possibly be a violation.
Superintendent Valerie McKenney declined to comment on Wednesday.
School board Chairman Dave Mylott said he’s aware of the issue and plans to address it at a school board meeting on April 18.
Mylott said he’s reviewed the dress code policies and doesn’t believe there’s anything that would prohibit a student from wearing a shirt with Trump or any other political figure.
He expressed concern about the incident being viewed as a violation of a student’s First Amendment rights.
“Personally, I think it’s very wrong. That’s a personal opinion,” he said.
If the concern stems from an intolerance among students and others in the school community when it comes to differing political views, Mylott said maybe the school needs better diversity training.
“I don’t think it was maliciously intended, but I think it sets a precedent that I don’t think we want to have,” Mylott said.
Ciretta said no one at school harassed her about the shirt, but after meeting with the principal, she agreed to wear a friend’s sweatshirt over the shirt.
Her parents, Jason and Rose MacKenzie, were also surprised by the decision to prohibit the Trump shirt, which their daughter bought during last year’s eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.
Rose MacKenzie emailed Ernest to question the decision.
His response read, in part: “I explained that we need to separate political views from patriotism. In today’s climate it is important to not mix church or state.”
She said she believes Ernest was looking out for her daughter and that the decision was made out of concern for her, in case others bothered the teen at school. She said it’s unfortunate that the principal even had to think twice about how to handle the situation.
“I think it’s a good time for people to stop and reflect, ‘Am I teaching my child to be respectful of other people’s opinions?’ In my opinion the school shouldn’t be put in that position,” she said.
The underlying issue, she said, is that adults aren’t practicing tolerance and respect, so neither are children.
“That’s the real problem,” she said.
Jason MacKenzie said he felt the decision to force his daughter to cover the shirt was the “easy way out,” insisting that it could have been more of a teachable moment for all students.
“Is censorship the answer or talking about it? I thought it was the wrong way out,” he said.
Ciretta said she feels it would have been better if Ernest had allowed her to wear the Trump shirt, but made clear that if anyone harassed her during the day that she should report it to administration so the problem could be addressed.
“I don’t think I should have been told to cover it up,” she said.