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Our View: A bad look, banner should prompt reminder from CCPS about valuing diversity of opinion, not discipline | COMMENTARY

An anti-Donald Trump banner that included profane language and the image of an obscene gesture displayed at the Union Bridge home of a Carroll County Public Schools administrator motivated a neighbor to notify local elected officials, one of whom penned a letter to the school superintendent calling for disciplinary action, and caused a stir on social media.

We are big believers in the First Amendment and aren’t calling for discipline. But this is a bad look. The school system claims to value diversity not just along the dimensions of race, gender and religion but also of political ideology, and expects students to be respectful of those with different beliefs. We get why people are upset and we hope this presents a learning opportunity that helps foster understanding.

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The banner displaying the image of an extended middle finger with the words, “[Expletive] Trump and [expletive] you too for voting for him,” was photographed hanging from a porch railing at the house of Kimani Jones, an assistant principal at Westminster High School. According to a school system spokesperson, who declined to comment on potential disciplinary measures, the banner was put up by a family member. According to a neighbor it was taken down after complaints were lodged.

Political expression by CCPS employees is protected. Regulations outlined in school board policy pertaining to employees’ political activities state: “All school employees are free to support or oppose any candidate without fear of reprisal.”

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But the CCPS Employee Handbook states that employees should “serve as a model of good behavior for the students of CCPS" and “respect the diversity of the school community.” It makes clear that policies in place in school buildings, such as the prohibitions on wearing items like political buttons or shirts with controversial messages, do not exist outside of school. Employees aren’t free to do or say whatever they’d like, however.

“Although the time beyond the official duty day is personal and private, please be mindful that actions undertaken outside of the work day may impact the school system or the ability to effectively perform official duties," the handbook states. "Actions or activities that impair one’s ability to discharge duties or function effectively ... even when occurring outside the school system setting or beyond the work day, may jeopardize continued employment with CCPS.”

Plenty of CCPS staff members posted political signage during the election season. Some likely contained messages that can’t be printed in a newspaper. But the aspect of this banner that seemed to ramp up the outrage was that it was not only anti-Trump, but anti-Trump supporters.

Del. Haven Shoemaker, in his letter to Superintendent Steve Lockard, said the banner “directed vile invective at the more than 70 million people who voted for the President, including over 60% who did so in Carroll County.”

It is statistically likely that hundreds of Westminster High School students have parents who voted for Trump — some older students, in fact, may themselves have done so — and it would be understandable if they felt insulted and were left wondering whether their political beliefs might be held against them when decisions, such as disciplinary measures, are being considered.

We hope Carroll countians will respect the rights granted under the First Amendment and understand that no member of a household has complete control over what is done by other members. But we also hope CCPS will take this opportunity to remind employees that words and actions face intense scrutiny in this social media era and can result in consequences, if not from the school system itself, at least in terms of community perception.

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