As some of you know, I’m a substitute teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District. Consequently, the closest thing I have to a supervisor is the principal at whatever school where I’m working on a given day and the school district administration.
This week, the administration came out with a controversial statement, asking staff members to “refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty — unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.”
Let’s start with the confusing part of that statement: Why in the world would a teacher or other staff member be wearing a safety pin for any reason related to curriculum??? Is the administration trying to make allowances for home ec teachers who might be wearing safety pins in their lapels so they can whip them off to demonstrate the marking of dress hems?
Other than that…I agree completely agree with the ban. The district’s statement correctly prefaced the request by noting that “the wearing of a safety pin as a political statement” falls into the category of free speech. While simply wearing a safety pin was not a problem in itself, the statement said, “any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process.”
And that’s the rub. The district has a strong mix of students from liberal and conservative families, and the district had received “concerns and complaints regarding political connotations associated with the wearing of safety pins.”
The safety-pin movement apparently goes back to the Brexit campaign in England, when some Brexit opponents began wearing safety pins to express solidarity with people who felt threatened by the Brexit movement. In that case, the message was aimed at immigrants. But here, after Donald Trump’s election, the message was extended to other groups, including gays, lesbians, transgenders and Muslims.
The first I heard of the safety-pin business was when Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith showed up wearing one at a post-game press conference last week. I didn’t think much of it, and it didn’t create much of a controversy for a couple of reasons. First, several NFL players have chosen to make political statements this season by not standing for the National Anthem. Second, Smith’s action was not going to offend any members of the news media — they don’t care, they just want good quotes and straight answers — nor was it going to pose any distraction or disruption to those proceedings.
As a liberal, my first thought upon hearing Smith had worn a safety pin was, “Great, I guess he voted for Hillary.”
But that reaction — which I’m sure others shared — confirmed that wearing a safety pin these days is, indeed, a political statement. Anybody who contends otherwise is just not being honest about it.
For Smith to wear one at the press conference is completely different from teachers and school staff members coming to school wearing safety pins. To me, it says, “In your face, Trump lover.” I can see how some students — and parents of some students — would recoil at the gesture.
In her Page 2 column in today’s Kansas City Star, Mary Sanchez criticized the Shawnee Mission School District’s message, but — as often is the case — her message was muddled.
She started off by saying district officials “decreed that wearing a safety pin is forbidden political speech.” Not so. The district’s statement clearly said the problem was not the actual wearing of a pin but the disruption it might cause.
She also said district officials had “bungled an opportunity to emphasize what every local district seeks — physical and emotional safety for all students.”
School districts’ concern for the physical and emotional well-being of their students goes without saying. Tacking on trite and platitudinous language like that suggested by Sanchez would have been meaningless.
As it should have, the school district focused on the issue at hand and, as far as I’m concerned, handled the matter very well…The only thing I would have tacked onto the statement was: “This ban also applies to home ec teachers; they may, however, wear clothespins to mark hems.”