Safety Pin Controversy Rages On In Shawnee Mission School District

Nov 22, 2016

The ACLU of Kansas has stepped into the safety pin controversy in the Shawnee Mission School District.
Credit iStock

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has stepped into the battle over whether teachers in the Shawnee Mission School District can wear safety pins.

The district has strongly urged staff to refrain from wearing safety pins saying they have become a political symbol. Others have argued the pins simply tell students who feel threatened after the presidential election that they have a safe person to talk to about issues.

In a letter sent to district superintendent Jim Hinson, the ACLU has said it's been "contacted by dozens of members of the Shawnee Mission community who are outraged by and deeply disappointed in the district's action."

The letter went on to suggest possible legal action. "The ACLU of Kansas strongly urges you to reconsider the prohibition on staff wearing safety pins. The school district’s current policy sends students a clear signal that not all students are valued or safe at school, undermines attempts to build community, and is vulnerable to a legal challenge."

All of this began to bubble up right after the election of Donald Trump. Most of the complaints about the wearing of safety pins have come from teachers and staff rather than parents, according to several people in the district.

The district and Shawnee Mission NEA issued a joint statement Monday saying the safety pins might disrupt classrooms, a violation of school board policy and the union's contract.

It was also discovered Tuesday that district administrators dealt with at least one instance of a Confederate flag being displayed in a classroom. “We asked that individual to remove the flag, we found that to be political speech that would be disruptive," says Superintendent Jim Hinson. "They removed that flag”

While Shawnee Mission NEA President Linda Sieck says she stands by her joint statement with the district, the union, backed by the Kansas NEA, says it will fight for the First Amendment rights of teachers.

Sieck admits this is a thorny issue with state law, board policy and the union contract all coming into play. She says the issue seems contained, for now. “This was not wide spread, to my knowledge, but it was a big enough issue that it became a concern for the district.”

“Any political speech that’s disruptive, whether it’s a flag or safety pin, we’re going to deal with it all the same," according to Hinson. "The school house is not the place for students to be exposed to any type of political indoctrination.” 

Sam Zeff  covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.