GILBERT, AZ — Protesters gathered outside of Perry High School in Gilbert Monday morning after students were disciplined while wearing political attire last week.
A Facebook post made rounds on social media, saying that kids were asked to leave school property and reprimanded after displaying "Make America Great Again" attire and banners for their "USA Day" celebration at the school.
"We were taking pictures with the banner that says Make America Great Again with our Trump sweatshirts and hats for the guys and the police officer started taking pictures of us and walked up and said I need you guys to vacate the area," said Tori Farris, one of the students holding the MAGA banner.
The principal sent a letter to parents, saying that the story was "false" and that the students were disciplined for a different reason.
I am writing to clear up misinformation circulating on social media and media, specifically that students have been disciplined for expressing their political viewpoints or wearing political attire. This is false.
The administration addressed an incident that occurred at lunch this past Friday, when students carrying political signage caused a disruption and created safety concern. The students were asked to put away the signage and they complied. However, after school ended for the day, the students unveiled the signage again in a manner that again caused concern for student safety. When the school's Resource Officer asked the students to leave campus, they declined. They also refused to respond to my request to provide their names and school identification when I sought to interview them. The information circulating about student discipline is incorrect, but the District is unable to correct the record due to federal privacy laws relating to disclosure of student information.
In summary, our administration has not and will not discipline a student for lawfully exercising their free speech rights. Students may lawfully be held accountable for complying with the District's lawful policies, administrative regulations and expectations for student conduct set forth in the Student Handbook. It is our responsibility to maintain a safe campus and ensure there are no disruptions to the educational environment. Students or visitors who refuse to comply with administration and law enforcement may be asked to leave the campus when the administration deems it in the best interest of safety, security and effective school operations.
We are proud of our environment at Perry, where diverse opinions are valued. Thank you for the support you provide to our staff and students throughout the year.
Dan Serrano, Principal"
About 30 adults gathered to protest near the school Monday morning, displaying Trump flags and American flags.
Terry Locke, CUSD spokesperson said that the students were never asked to put away Trump gear.
"The Administration only asked that the banner be put away when the students engaged in a verbal altercation and the administration was concerned that it would escalate," Locke said.
Farris's mother went up to the school afterwards to talk to school administrators about the incident.
"When the parent at issue arrived at the Perry High School office, she screamed, yelled and used profanity, including the “F” word in the presence of students and staff. Her conduct did not meet expectations for public conduct on school property, as set forth in Policy KFA, “Public Conduct on School Property” and otherwise," said Locke. "When the parent would not cease her screaming, yelling and cursing, Mr. Serrano asked her to leave. She refused to do so. At that point, Mr. Serrano told the parent that he was trespassing her, which meant that he was directing her (rather than requesting her) to leave the campus. He did not tell her that she was trespassing when she arrived at the school."
Farris claims things went differently.
"She didn’t do anything. She walked in, she was respectful, they were rude to her. They were telling her she was difficult and it was disrespectful to have a flag on campus that says Make America Great Again," said Farris.
When reached Tuesday, Jennifer Farris said she raised her voice but did not use profanity.
"I do feel I was justified in my questioning why the school had taken the stance that they had," Farris said. "Our kids were intimidated. they were scared. They didn't know what they had done wrong and I don't think they had done anything wrong."
Reflecting on how everything has escalated since Friday, Farris said she would have handled the situation differently.
"If I had been able to see or even think about the fact things get turned around, spun around, I mean honestly I probably would have stepped back and told the kids if they want to do this, they could have but I probably wouldn't have helped them and been the face of this."
State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Chandler), one of 25 GOP lawmakers to ask the attorney general to investigate the incident, wants the district to rescind the punishments given to the students.
"I think everyone was angry that day including the principal," she said Tuesday. "I think anger ruled that entire situation and I think after having some space between that day and now cooler heads should prevail. Everything should be reversed."
Locke said while the district is not able to share more specific information about individual students due to privacy laws that make such disclosure unlawful, it believes that it acted in accordance with applicable laws and its own policies, regulations and rules in the handling of this matter.
District officials will be communicating directly with students and their parents on a personal basis as needed to try to address individual family concerns.