Superintendent Champ changes policy for staff to bar any apparel representing political speech

Superintendent+Champ+changes+policy+for+staff+to+bar+any+apparel+representing+political+speech

Pelham Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ defined a no-tolerance policy barring staff from wearing apparel that includes any political speech and addressed community concerns related to the district’s approach to political messaging in an email sent to parents and students Thursday.

Champ issued the new policy in an email to staff on Sunday, saying in Thursday’s message “implementation of this policy was inconsistent.” For example, masks and sweatshirts with the thin blue line flag were banned, while “Vote” t-shirts with the names of Black individuals killed by police were permitted.

“Moving forward, we will apply the district’s policy regarding political activities fairly and in a way that prioritizes a safe and respectful environment for all of our students,” she wrote in the email to staff. “With this in mind, staff should refrain from wearing any apparel that can be construed to represent political speech. This includes, but is not limited to, support for political candidates or parties and social movements such as those represented in our schools last week on t-shirts and masks.”

In Thursday’s email, Champ clarified her reasoning for the district’s restriction on clothing that featured the thin blue line flag, which is meant to represent the concept that police are the “line” between order and chaos in society, but is considered by others to be a symbol of police oppression.

“We have heard directly from students and families that the thin blue line flag worn by numerous well-intended staff members was perceived as threatening,” said Champ. “Our schools must be places where students feel safe and respected, and it is for that reason that I asked staff to remove the symbol while in the workplace.”

On Monday—after the new policy had already been sent to staff but not further publicized—the union representing New York City detectives wrote a letter to Champ strongly opposing her ban on a sweatshirt that has a thin blue line flag on its sleeve and commemorates the late George Caccavale, a New York Transit Police detective who was murdered in 1976.

A Pelham Union Free School District spokesman said Champ received the letter by email Thursday night, and the district would have no comment on its content.

In Thursday’s message, Champ acknowledged the desire of some staff to show support for the police as well as those students and parents who find the thin blue line flag “intimidating.”

“To be very clear, we support and respect our police officers.” she wrote. “I feel extremely fortunate to have a strong relationship with both departments in our town.”

While district staff will be barred from political messages on apparel, Champ said students have more expansive First Amendment freedoms within the school environment, including regarding the clothing they wear, with some limits on vulgar, libelous and discriminatory expressions of speech. For more information on these limits, the official PUFSD Code of Conduct can be accessed here.