Disagrees with PMHS ban on watching inaugural live: Democracy requires our urgent attention

Last week we witnessed the historic inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris—affirming the strength and resiliency of American democracy. However, I was disappointed to learn that staff at Pelham Memorial High School were not allowed to livestream the inauguration, or show videos or images of the inauguration to their classes on the day of the event. 

The school district explained that the decision was due to concerns about potential violence at the inauguration being shown live to students and Covid-19 related scheduling restrictions, and required students to provide a note from a parent or guardian in order to receive an excused absence to watch the live event.

As a member of the PMHS alumni community, I strongly disagree with the district’s decision.

The events of 2020 and at the start of the 2021 have reminded us that our democracy is precious—and requires our urgent attention and care. At every opportunity, we must be emphasizing to our students that their civic engagement is vital to the survival of our democracy—because if they turn their backs on it, it could all be taken away. We cannot look away from the violent insurrection, nor from the relentless assault on the integrity of our elections, if we hope to counter these forces and safeguard our democracy. At the same time, it is important to celebrate moments of progress. Schools play a critical role in nurturing the next generation and preparing them to be civically engaged. President Joe Biden’s inauguration—made all the more remarkable in light of threats to our democracy—was an important opportunity to highlight the challenges we face and the long fight ahead.  

Furthermore, the ceremony was an opportunity for students to witness the first woman, and first Black and Asian-American woman, accede to the vice presidency. It was also an opportunity for students to watch one of their peers, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, speak to the nation and shed light on the power of youth. Watching those moments was emotional for me—and I’m sure for countless other girls and women across the country. It was an affirmation of our power and worth, and what is possible. 

While I am glad that teachers will be allowed to share videos and images of the presidential inauguration after the fact, it is disappointing that PMHS students were not given the opportunity to bear witness to this monumental moment for our democracy and country. 

It is my hope that moving forward, the school district will encourage and facilitate their students’ engagement with history in the making. 

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat, represents the 34th District in the New York State Senate, which includes Pelham.