On Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, cheerleaders from North Stanly High School in New London, North Carolina, were put on probation for the remainder of the football season for posing with a Trump 2020 banner before a football game last August 30. The school district has not defined the terms of the probation and stated that the cheerleader team is expected to continue cheering.
The photo of the cheerleaders with the banner was posted on Facebook, prompting one commenter to write: “Why in the world would the school board allow this to happen. I am sad and very disappointed with NS. This is a High School football game, not a political rally. Shame on them.”
In a press release, North Stanly High School said:
- During the football game that evening, the cheerleaders, while in uniform, held up a political campaign sign.
- Neither Stanly County Schools nor North Stanly High School disciplined the cheerleaders for this action.
- The focus of an athletic event should be on our students – not politics – which is why the school board has a policy that prohibits the distribution of political campaign material at school events or school publications. This policy is in place to ensure the school system remains neutral on political issues and the focus remains on our students.
- This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities. Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign. For this reason, the only action Stanly County Schools has taken is to ask the cheerleaders not to display the sign again.
- Upon becoming aware of this matter, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association placed the cheerleading squad on probation for the remainder of the football season. Probation is not a punishment, but the school is put on notice that further actions or behaviors that go against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior by the same team or school will be subject to punishment, in accordance with Handbook Rule 3.2.
- The NCHSAA did not suspend the cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders were present at the football game on September 13 and will be present at all remaining games during the season.
- The NCHSAA is the governing body for inter-scholastic athletics in North Carolina. As a member of the NCHSAA, Stanly County Schools is required to comply with all NCHSAA rules and regulations.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told McClatchy news group that probation is not punishment, but rather “serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior. One of the rules we have is that every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment. We take that to mean that it’s in an environment where good sportsmanship is shown, where people feel safe…that respect for all people participating is being shown.”
The Stanly County School District also issued a statement saying:
Stanly County Schools respects the rights of its students, staff, and visitors to express their opinions in a respectful manner on their own time, however, Stanly County Board of Education policy prohibits the display or distribution of political advertisements on campus or at school events. Further, Stanly County Schools never makes political campaign endorsements. These policies ensure that all students, staff and visitors are able to attend school events in an environment that promotes students and not a particular political viewpoint.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) protested the probation. Hudson said in a letter to the NCHSAA:
I am appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. As leaders, we should be encouraging America’s youth to participate in our democracy and political process — not punishing them and silencing them. These North Stanly students respectfully displayed a sign and took a picture. They did not cause a scene, participate in a protest, or break any school code of conduct … At the end of the day, these students have a First Amendment right to free speech, and the NCHSAA should immediately reconsider thus unfair punishment. I ask this not only as the federal representative of Stanly County, but also as a proud graduate of North Carolina public schools and a former NCHSAA athlete.
Supporters of the cheerleading squad have planned an event this Friday, Sept 20, 6-8 pm. The announcement of the event on Facebook says:
The North Stanly High School cheerleaders have been wrongly put on probation by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association for the rest of the football season because of holding up a Trump banner before a home game on 8-30-2019. Please come out and help me show the school and the NCHSAA that freedom of speech is not dead. Please bring all your Trump and MAGA gear and let’s throw our support behind the North Stanly High School cheerleaders.
Does anyone seriously believe that these cheerleaders would be punished if they had held up a “Hillary Clinton 2016” banner?
H/t Daily Wire