Maddie Mueller, a student at Clovis North High School in Fresno, California, is a politically active teenager. Not an unusual thing these days — in fact, it’s encouraged, particularly if you’re in with the March for Our Lives set.
There’s one complication here, however: Mueller is a conservative. According to KSEE, she’s involved with the “Valley Patriots.” The group had requested that its members wear their “Make America Great Again” caps on Feb. 20. She asked permission from her high school and was denied.
The reason behind it? The dress code doesn’t allow clothing with logos on them, according to Mueller.
“To my knowledge, Trump is not a logo. It’s a last name, it’s just our president,” she told KSEE. “You can’t really claim that our president is a logo, a sports team. It’s not affiliating with any gang.”
While the Clovis Unified School District doesn’t specify whether clothing that makes a political statement is allowed under the dress code, they quickly changed their tune.
“Bottom line for us, our dress code is really about allowing our kids to come to school, to feel safe at school, to feel supported at school and to be free of distractions so they can focus on learning,” CUSD spokeswoman Kelly Avants told the local news station.
There’s more than one reason for this convenient shift. The first is obvious: The original explanation sounded rank. But then there was the second explanation for the school district’s actions, which was a bit more artful.
For those who need a bit of a refresher when it comes to the constitutional right to support a political position within a public school, the landmark case is Tinker v. Des Moines, which the Supreme Court decided in 1969. The Court affirmed by a 7-2 vote that a group of students protesting the Vietnam War with black armbands in school had every right to do so provided the protests didn’t “materially and substantially interfere” with the educative process.
There’s no evidence, mind you, that Mueller or anyone else would have interfered, materially or substantially, with the school’s educational prerogatives. But if you’re covering yourself for a court case, saying that you made the decision so that students would “feel safe at school” and “free of distractions so they can focus on learning” is significantly more legally defensible
There’s something alarmingly implicit in Avants’ statement. One might read it to have meant that liberal students can’t be expected to control themselves at the sight of a “Make America Great Again” cap, so the school is abrogating its responsibility to keep those exercising perfectly legitimate, mainstream political speech safe.
The school would later re-clarify its position to Heavy.com, saying it wasn’t the fact that it was a MAGA cap, but rather that any kind of non-school-related hat would run afoul of the dress code.
If Mueller had worn a shirt that said MAGA, Avants said, she would have been OK. This seems problematic inasmuch as this wasn’t the story in the first place, and Mueller claims her “Build the Wall” shirts were also vetoed by school authorities.
Picture this in any other circumstance: Your child is bullied for having an unpopular (if apolitical) opinion, you go to the district to complain and the district merely says, “Well, maybe if they were to stop voicing that opinion this would all clear up.”
Mueller has stuck to her rights. “I’m not really caring if I’m offending anybody,” she told KSEE. “I’m just showing support for the president and what I believe.”
The school, meanwhile, has continued to hide behind the fact that it’s not just MAGA apparel but this MAGA hat in particular that’s causing issues.
“It’s unfortunate that our dress code is being misrepresented as specifically singling out a MAGA hat as that is not what the policy says,” Avants said in a statement to Fox News.
“The district dress code allows for students to wear shirts or other clothing with a wide variety of sayings and/or political commentary. Unless causing an actual disruption on campus, MAGA apparel is acceptable, and this has been shared with the student,” the statement added.
If this is causing an “actual disruption,” however, the problem lies with the school district.
They’ve either fostered an environment in which students cannot safely express their constitutional rights or they’re creating one out of whole cloth in order to keep Trump-themed apparel out of the school. Neither augurs particularly well.
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