Purple Pride overzealous at Roland Park school, say some parents

Go purple, or go to the library.

That was the warning some teachers issued to parents at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School regarding student participation at Friday's Ravens-sponsored pep rally in advance of the team's conference championship game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

"Students must wear purple or Ravens attire to attend, as there will be many TV cameras there," one teacher wrote to parents in an email obtained by The Baltimore Sun. "Not wearing purple or Ravens attire means making a choice not to attend."

Another teacher emailed that "students must wear purple in order to attend. If your child does not wear purple or you do not wish them to attend, I believe staff will supervise the students in the library."

The Baltimore Ravens organization selected Roland Park for the rally — which will also feature the Ravens cheerleaders — not only because it's a high-performing school but because the time the school opens and its location fit well into the scheduled route of the Purple Friday caravan that will stop at several rally points, according to Melanie LeGrande, director of community relations for the team.

The Ravens aren't insisting on purple attire. LeGrande said the organization reached out to Roland Park officials Thursday about parents' concerns that the school would exclude pupils who don't don the team's colors.

"We have expressed our concerns to the administration at the school, and we have been told that the pep rally will not exclude any student, regardless of who they support," LeGrande said. "The Ravens are about inclusivity, and we're excited to bring the rally to the school."

On Thursday, school administrators blamed the flap on a simple miscommunication. Officials said that it is not the school's policy to exclude pupils from Ravens-related events if they do not wear purple and that some teachers may have been overzealous in their efforts to have 100 percent purple participation from pupils.

But for Mark Brody, a Pittsburgh native and die-hard Steelers fan, the message was much more insidious. The father of three pupils at the school, he said that his objection "is not about football; it's about discrimination and an exclusionary policy that needs to be fought against." He took his objections to Facebook, where dozens of other parents agreed with him.

Having grown up in a state notorious for its football fanaticism, Brody said he appreciates the city's rallying behind the Ravens, but not at the expense of his three children — who regularly wear black and yellow — in kindergarten, first and second grade. Brody moved to Baltimore in 1998 and supports other Baltimore teams, like the Orioles.

"I like the town getting behind the team. I like Purple Friday," Brody said. "But this is about standing up for their right to just be themselves, to not have to pretend that you're a Ravens fan to go to an event during the school day. I shouldn't have to send my kid to school to have them sit in the library."

Brody said that he spoke with the school's Purple Friday committee earlier in the year to ensure that his children would not be sent home for wearing Steelers garb, which they were not.

But he said he sent a letter Thursday to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials expressing his discontent about how the school communicated the required attire for the festivities Friday.

Carolyn Cole, principal of Roland Park, said the school has held its own Purple Fridays since September, during which pupils have been allowed to either wear their uniforms of khaki pants and blue shirts, or incorporate purple or Ravens gear into their attire.

This Friday would be no different, she said.

"I think a couple of elementary teachers sent that out thinking: 'I would love my whole class to have all purple on,'" Cole said. "But it's a choice, and no one is excluded."

Cole said the only pupils who will be excluded — and supervised in the library — are those who are late to school. The pep rally is on a stringent schedule and is supposed to last only about 20 minutes.

Cole said pupils have regularly worn the jerseys of other football teams to school and that "we have not said a word because it's little children, and that's not what we're about. We're about the education of children."

Brody said he thinks this is a teachable moment.

"It's a very valuable lesson to my kids, that it's OK to be different," he said. "If they can stand up for relatively unimportant things like a football team, it will be easier for them to stand up for more serious things when they're older.

"Instead, we have a school saying that we won't allow a different viewpoint." he said. "Difference is what makes a good school. We have to learn to be accepting of that."

And on Friday, he said, Roland Park will have to accept whatever his children decide to wear in the morning.


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