Kansas School District Bans Teachers From Wearing Safety Pins As Symbol Of Safety And Inclusion

A Kansas school district has forbidden teachers from wearing safety pins, saying that the symbol of support could be taken as a political statement and is not fair to other students or to staff members who weren’t allowed to hang the Confederate flag.

Shawnee Mission School District employees were told Friday that they were no longer allowed to wear the safety pins, which have been worn to show that the people wearing them are safe to approach if students feel vulnerable, the Pitch reports. Local principal Stan Anderson sent an email to staff and faculty of his school to inform them that the pins could be taken as showing political bias.

“SMSD employees must strive to create a ‘balanced and neutral’ educational environment,” he wrote. “Our teachers and staff at Nieman continue to do a great job throughout a highly charged election season. We must remain ‘balanced and neutral’ moving forward after the election in all that we say and do.”

In the email, Anderson said that some parents and students had expressed concern about the safety pin movement, saying that it didn’t show support for all students.

“Where our intentions may be to display our support for ALL of our students, others can interpret the safety pin as a political statement against our president elect. To protect the best interests of ALL kids, we need to remain balanced and neutral in all that we say and do to include conversations and/or email exchanges.

“In our continued effort to support a ‘balanced and neutral’ educational environment, please do not wear a safety pin while you are working on campus or working with students at school events.”

After the school district was contacted for more information, assistant superintendent of communications Leigh Anne Neal replied that the district had received “concerns and complaints regarding political connotations associated with the wearing of safety pins” and said that the safety pins were creating a “disruption.”

In response to these issues, a joint statement to all staff of the school district was issued on Monday to clarify district policies and procedures.

“Recent events require us to remind our employees of their rights and responsibilities. As a staff member, you do not give up your first amendment right to free-speech on matters of public concern. However, your communication inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district and there is a limitation on that speech.

“The wearing of a safety pin as a political statement is the latest example of such political speech. Although wearing the safety pin as political speech is not the problem, any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process. We ask 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.”

Superintendent Jim Hinson told the Kansas City Star that the safety pins became an issue after a school employee hung a Confederate flag in one of the district schools after the presidential election. The employee was asked to take it down because it was a political symbol.

“We have to treat all political symbols the same,” Hinson said.

Teachers who were wearing safety pins say they don’t carry a political message. They say that the pins are intended to tell students that if they feel bullied or intimidated, the person wearing the pin should be considered safe.

Many Americans began wearing safety pins after Donald Trump was elected president to show support and solidarity for members of some groups who were feeling vulnerable, such as women, immigrants, people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. The symbol was adopted from a similar campaign in the United Kingdom earlier this year.

It actually originated after Brexit. People saw their neighbors were being harassed, and so they started wearing safety pins to show they were a safe person,” parent Brian Koon told KMBC. “[For] some kids who need a little extra reassurance that the teachers are on their side, even when some of their classmates aren’t.”

The Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union responded by asking the Shawnee Mission School District to reconsider its ban on staff members wearing safety pins. They said in a statement that the pins are not political and the school system is risking a lawsuit.

The Kansas chapter of the National Education Association is also backing the teachers who choose to wear safety pins. The Kansas NEA issued a statement of support on Tuesday, saying that it will support teachers who choose to continue wearing the safety pins.

“Protecting the rights of all educators means protecting the right to respectfully invite colleagues to participate in a symbolic gesture of reassurance, but also the rights of colleagues to choose not to participate.”

Marcus Baltzell, a spokesman for the Kansas NEA, said the organization would support any member whose job was put in jeopardy because he or she chose to wear a pin as a symbol of safety and inclusion.

[Featured Image by alan64/Thinkstock]

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