EPPING — The school superintendent says she’s investigating Monday’s incident in which an Epping High School freshman was told to cover up her “Make America Great Again” Trump T-shirt at school.
Valerie McKenney said Thursday that the investigation is ongoing and because it involves a school district employee it’s considered a personnel matter. (See related editorial, Page A6)
“These issues are sensitive to everybody and require a thoughtful investigation and response,” she told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
In a letter issued to the school community Thursday afternoon, McKenney said that “when the investigation has been completed, we will take steps to remedy this situation for all parties involved and ensure that this type of situation never happens again in any Epping school.”
The school has come under fire after 14-year-old freshman Ciretta MacKenzie wore her President Trump shirt on Monday for the school’s America Day, in which students wore red, white, and blue.
Ciretta said she didn’t think it would be a problem, but ended up getting called to the principal’s office.
Principal Brian Ernest told her that she couldn’t wear the shirt and would need to find something else to wear, she said.
According to Ciretta, Ernest explained that Trump is a controversial President, he didn’t want people to feel uncomfortable at school, and he didn’t want the special day to become political.
In an email to Ciretta’s mother, who questioned the decision to prohibit the shirt, Ernest wrote, “I explained that we need to separate political views from patriotism. In today’s climate it is important to not mix church or state.”
In her community letter, McKenney said there was a second student who was asked to remove a hat during America Day because the school has a “no hat” policy. Her investigation began Tuesday.
“Both students responded appropriately to these requests,” she said.
School board Chairman David Mylott has said he can’t find anything in the school’s dress code policy that would prevent a student from wearing the shirt. He plans to address the incident at the next school board meeting scheduled for April 18 at the town hall.
Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, issued a statement Thursday morning in response to the incident.
“We are deeply concerned about the actions of Epping High School in censoring this peaceful political speech in support of the President. T-shirts — as well as hats, buttons, and other wearable items — are a common way for students to express their views on everything from political races to social issues. Unfortunately, schools have a long history of trying to censor this form of peaceful expression. Public schools should create an environment where the free exchange of ideas is fostered, not silenced,” the statement said.
The ACLU has submitted a public records’ request for more information concerning the district’s speech policies and is urging the district to “take immediate action to protect the rights of students to engage in peaceful political speech in its schools.”