By Tyson Langhofer, GSN Guest Writer
Warning: If you’re a student at Perry High School in Gilbert, you‘d better agree with the principal’s politics – or else.
March 1 marked the end of “Spirit Week” at Perry High and was designated “Party in the USA” day. Students were encouraged to wear patriotic or USA-themed clothing. Logan Jones took that designation at face value: a day to celebrate what she loves about America.
One of the things she happens to love is Donald Trump. Nothing in the school’s promotional materials indicated that she couldn’t celebrate the president of her country. To her, that seemed patriotic.
So, she wore her red “Make America Great Again” shirt, and after school, she and a few of her friends went to one of the outdoor common areas of campus to take a few selfies before they went home. She broke out a MAGA flag for the pictures.
A school official appeared, ordering them to leave. Logan asked why. The official suggested she take that up with the assistant principal. Turns out the assistant principal had ordered security officers to report to her any students with MAGA clothing or flags, which she deemed “disrespectful.”
Logan and her friends immediately began gathering up their books and backpacks. The official took pictures then followed them as they moved to leave campus.
He asked for Logan’s name. Again, she asked why – she was already doing what he’d asked her to do. He told her to come with him to speak with the vice principal. Knowing she was in trouble, she called her mother, who told her she was coming to the school and not to talk to anyone until she got there.
In the office, the principal asked Logan’s name. She politely explained that her mother was coming, and that she would answer his questions once she arrived.
Within 10 minutes, Logan’s mother came in. The principal was in his office, his door closed. After several minutes, he emerged to announce that Logan was suspended for 10 days, and that the two should leave campus immediately. No discussion. No explanation, beyond the fact that Logan hadn’t given her name when asked.
Clearly, that’s not why Logan is having to miss school this week. Out of the wide spectrum of student expressions of patriotism that day, hers was the one singled out as unacceptable.
The obvious inference is that she was suspended simply because she likes President Trump – and her administrators do not. She is being punished for not complying with their political preferences.
That’s a violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that high school students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gates.”
Such expression can only be prohibited if it “materially and substantially” interferes with the operation of the school or infringes on the rights of others. (Again: Logan was taking a picture, with friends, after school hours.)
But more than that, it’s a case of school officials bullying the very young people they’re charged with protecting, and undermining the most essential message a school can teach: that ideas are free. That different people look at the world differently … and peaceful disagreement is allowed.
That the essence of learning is conversation, and exploring ideas and trying to understand why other people believe as they do. That a healthy society thrives on those free conversations.
Logan’s experience echoes a growing number of cases nationwide where student speech – and specifically, conservative student speech – is deemed too controversial to be allowed.
She is one of an entire generation being immersed in the idea that the most important quality of citizenship is to never say or do or think or believe anything that might possibly offend someone else.
But by banning a certain group of ideas, administrators are creating the very monster they profess to be fighting. They’re not heading off controversy –they’re feeding it, teaching students that certain ideas are “disrespectful” and disruptive.
They’re not encouraging tolerance and inviting healthy discussion. They’re creating “public enemies” and celebrating censorship.
After receiving a letter from Alliance Defending Freedom, Perry High School officials say Logan can return to school, but they refuse to remove the unjust suspension from her record. Sorry, but that’s just not good enough. These officials owe Logan an apology, a full exoneration – and a better education.
– Tyson Langhofer represents Perry High School student Logan Jones and is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.