District: Asking student to ditch political mask was ‘misunderstanding of policy’
News4Jax | by Joe McLean | December 9, 2020
DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. – A student at First Coast High School was asked to replace his face mask Wednesday morning, which displayed support for President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful 2020 re-election campaign.
The student, who asked that his name remain private, said his teacher “kicked him out of class” and told him the mask was a violation of school policy.
“I told her that it was my first amendment right, it wasn’t belligerent or anything, it wasn’t causing a disruption,” the student told News4Jax. “That’s when she told me to get out of her class and go somewhere else with that mask and that she was writing me up.”
News4Jax reached out to school and district administrators Wednesday morning to ask about the teacher’s action. A short time later, the district replied, saying the teacher misinterpreted its dress code and had since allowed the student to resume wearing the mask.
“The matter has been resolved in accordance with the district’s policy on dress code and expression,” DCPS spokesperson Tracy Pierce told News4Jax. “The student was simply asked to change from a face covering with a political message to one without. The student politely complied, but the request was a misunderstanding of policy.”
Pierce said the teacher did not kick the student out of class nor was the student suspended, but the teen was asked to leave the class to get a replacement mask sans the political message.
“If there is defiance and continued non-conformance to the dress code, consequences could escalate, but this situation never approached that territory,” Pierce said. “Our goal is to keep students in class, and dress code problems are handled by giving the student the opportunity to correct the issue.”
The student said he felt singled-out and uncomfortable when he was confronted by the instructor.
“It made me feel like I was being picked out of a crowd of people because I was supporting Trump,” the student said.
“You certainly have your first amendment right to voice your political opinion, in this country,” the student’s grandfather told News4Jax. “People have their views, and they’re welcome to have them and they have First Amendment rights.”
The rules regarding the political expression of students and that of district employees are different, with teachers and administrators being held to a much stricter standard.
The Student Code of Appearance for the district doesn’t prohibit apparel with political messages but does allow administrators to deem something disruptive or distracting.
“The site administration shall be the final judge as to neatness and cleanliness of wearing apparel and whether or not such apparel is appropriate, disruptive, distracting, or in violation of health and safety rules,” the policy states.
The policy for teachers and other school district employees bans them from pushing a political agenda.
“When addressing political issues as an objective of the instructional program, the positions of all parties will be presented on a nonpartisan basis. Partisan political literature will not be distributed in schools,” the district’s Policy on Curriculum and Instruction states. “However, schools may give out information relating to School District taxes or the need for construction bonds.”
So too are official student groups and organizations prohibited from supporting a candidate or partisan issue.
That rule came into play in September, when Fletcher High School banned the use of the “thin blue line” flag by its football team. The district’s discrimination policy also bans discrimination based upon political beliefs.
The district said the student will not suffer any academic consequences for the incident.
In September, a student at Bradford Middle School in Starke was told to remove her mask which displayed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.