A Westchester school district is standing behind a new policy that bars staff members from wearing symbols that represent political speech.
The Pelham Board of Education held a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18 to address rising tensions that have arisen from Schools Superintendent Cheryl Champ’s decision to ban staff members from wearing anything that pertains to either the Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter movements while on the job.
Champ implemented the new policy after some staff members wore masks and other clothes that featured the Thin Blue Line Flag, typically a sign of tribute to fallen police officers that has become political fodder.
According to Champ, some students saw the symbol as threatening, causing them to feel unsafe in school buildings.
“The issue of staff wearing Thin Blue Line masks was raised by students who felt uncomfortable in our schools when they saw this symbol in the buildings,” the Board of Education said. “Since it is our job to ensure that all students feel welcome and safe in our schools, staff members who wore the masks were asked to refrain from wearing them while on school grounds.”
The issue started with Blue Lives Matter, but then Champ met with some staff members who expressed concern that the argument was one-sided. That conversation led to the district to implement the new policy banning all political speech.
“While her intention was never to choose sides or to unevenly enforce school policy, we understand that this is how it was perceived by some,” Board members said. “She then (followed up) stating that the policy would include any speech, clothing, or symbols that could be construed as political.”
Officials noted that students have not been instructed or asked not to wear any clothing or masks that have been at the center of the controversy.
In a joint statement between Champ and the union presidents of the Pelham and Pelham Manor Police Departments that was read at Wednesday’s meeting, the officials agreed that students’ and officers’ safety was the top priority for the community.
“We are in agreement that our schools and police departments can and will work together around common goals of fostering an atmosphere in which our police officers are supported and respected for their work and which all students feel safe and respected in their schools, regardless of their background or beliefs.”
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