Members of a high school cheerleading squad in North Carolina have been placed on probation after posing in front of a “Trump 2020” sign alongside students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats prior to a football game.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association handed down the probation on Friday to the North Stanley cheerleaders for violating rules that “every contest should be conducted in a wholesome, athletic environment,” NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker told The Stanley News & Press.
“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,” Tucker continued.
President Donald Trump’s campaign slogans and rhetoric have been likened to racist dog whistles.
Display violated district policy against political ads
The Stanley County School District announced after the incident that the display violated a policy that “prohibits the display or distribution of political advertisements on campus or at school events.”
The NCHSAA released a statement Monday further clarifying its stance.
“The focus of Friday night football games should be on our students — the players, cheerleaders, band members — the focus should not be on politics,” the statement provided to the Charlotte Observer reads. “For this reason, we are hopeful the situation will resolve, and our student athletes can have a successful fall season.”
Cheerleaders not barred from performing
The squad is expected to keep cheering, according to the school district.
Tucker told The Observer that the squad is subject to fines or suspensions if it continues to display political propaganda.
North Stanley High School is around 40 miles northeast of Charlotte. The incident gained attention on social media after the display before an August 30 football game.
District addresses free speech concerns
The school district noted in a statement Monday that its policy doesn’t intend to stifle students’ free speech, but that it violated rules because the cheerleaders were acting in an official capacity representing their school.
“This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities,” the statement reads. “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.”
Another incident in Arkansas
The incident has gained attention alongside a similar display at an Arkansas high school where cheerleaders from Lake Hamilton High School unfurled a “Make America Great Again” banner before a football game.
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