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School board explains ban on policital clothing

Mifflin County School District officials speak against attire that disrupts educational process

LEWISTOWN — When political attire disrupts the educational process, they are deemed inappropriate to wear in school, officials at Mifflin County School District explained Thursday.

During the board of director’s Committee of the Whole meeting, which was broadcast over Zoom, Solicitor Orris Knepp described the process that led to administrators making the decision to ban all political attire.

A letter banning articles of clothing that contain political speech or that symbolize a particular viewpoint was sent out to students and parents on Oct. 1.

Knepp said the policy came after the district received two separate written complaints from student within 24 hours regarding politically-motivated face masks. The complaints indicated the students felt they were being harassed and intimidated.

Both students indicated that their education was being disrupted because they felt intimidated, the solicitor explained.

While drafting a letter that would go out to school officials to ban political attire across the whole political spectrum, Knepp said a third incident occurred.

“There was an assault and the genesis of that assault was one student was wearing a face mask that the other student didn’t like. The student that didn’t like the face mask was shouting a bunch of buzz words that had to do with that particular movement and the aggravating student removed the face mask and spit in the other student’s face.”

Knepp said that law enforcement became involved in the incident and that charges were filed.

“Having a physical altercation going on in the middle of your cafeteria is certainly disruptive of your educational process in your school,” Knepp said. “Based on that, I think the restrictions that were put in place were appropriate.”

Board member Frederick Nickel expressed concern about banning political attire.

“Where do you draw the line?” he asked.

Superintendent James Estep said, “none of this is easy and I can assure the board — if you can take me at my word — we’re certainly not out to try to snub the Bill of Rights or free speech, we’re just trying to run a school system.”

In other news, Nickel voiced concerns that a parent had regarding political content that was being shown in an elementary classroom.

Nickel said the parent was concerned that a teacher who showed the presidential debates in class was showing them on CNN10 and that the teacher’s intentions for showing the content might be politically motivated because of the station’s perceived political stance.

The parent, Nickel said, requested that the school keep politics out of an elementary classroom. He also explained that the parent was afraid to discuss the issue with the teacher for fear of retaliation.

Board member Mary Lou Sigler interjected, saying it would be difficult to teach a subject like social studies without teaching students about politics.

“I think we really need to consider what we’re saying here. Teachers have a curriculum to follow. The avenue that they use to follow it is, by and large, up to them….I have no problem with students watching debates that are of very important nature. If we’re going to shield our students from reality then we’re going to have a lot more problems down the road. They need to be aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Board member Kristen Sharp added that learning about politics is part of learning about government, “but we do need to make sure that we’re doing it appropriately.”

Board member Terry Styers said the board would need more clarity and context of the situation to ensure showing the debates was in alignment with the standards of the curriculum for the grade level.

“We need to answer that question before we dive any deeper,” he said.

Styers encouraged parents who have concerns to first discuss them with their child’s teachers.

“Often, you can get a lot of issues resolved pretty easily just by parent contacting their teacher and asking questions so it doesn’t come to us. If it doesn’t get resolved at that level, go to the building-level administrator and eventually if it doesn’t get resolved, it does come to us,” he said.

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