EPPING, NH—Epping High School freshman Ciretta Mackenzie, 15, was asked by her principal to cover up her “Make America Great Again” shirt and another student’s hat during “America Day.”
Both students were asked to change out of their MAGA attire on April 8, on a day where the school encouraged students to wear patriotic clothing. One student was told to remove their hat as it violated the school’s “no hat” policy and Mackenzie was asked to cover up her shirt. Both students complied to the requests according to Epping Superintendent Valerie McKenney in a district-wide letter.
“I don’t understand why I was dress coded. Theres no reason. I was supporting my president, what is wrong with that,” said Mackenzie in a interview with Boston 25 News. According to Mackenzie, she was pulled away by the principal and had to borrow a friend’s sweatshirt. “He just kind of gave me a speech saying how we can’t mix church and state within school and how President Trump is very controversial.”
Mackenzie believes she did not violate the dress code policy. “It’s just a shirt, and it only says Trump make America great again, it doesn’t say anything like build a wall, so I don’t get how it could be offensive, how it could be disrespectful,” she said.
Mackenzie said some classmates began to criticize her after the incident. “After I covered up, because I was kind of ashamed, kids who don’t support Trump, some of them were, like, You get what you deserve.”
In the same interview Mackenzie’s father said “ We don’t want politics to be totally removed from school. It needs to be at school. The way they [school officials] went about it was ‘oh well the answer to this problem is remove everything.’ We don’t want that.”
“I want our students to be free thinkers and be able to express their opinions in a respectful manner,” said Principal Brian S. Ernest in a letter to the school community on Friday, April 12.
Ernest said he meet with MacKenzie’s family on April 12 and apologized to them. “We have begun to draft a plan to move forward to promote civil discourse and diversity in our schools,” said Ernest. “In retrospect, I want to fully acknowledge my error in judgment and sincerely apologize if my actions were misinterpreted and offended anyone. That was never my intention.”
“The Epping School Board and Epping District’s position is that this event should not ever have taken place, and we are committed to the creation of a school environment that promotes open and free thought and dialogue,” said McKenney in a district-wide letter. McKenney noted the incident has been under investigation since April 9.
“We are deeply concerned about the actions of Epping High School in censoring this peaceful political speech in support of the President,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. “T-shirts – as well as hats, buttons, and other wearable items – are a common way for students to express their views on everything from political races to social issues. Unfortunately, schools have a long history of trying to censor this form of peaceful expression. Public schools should create an environment where the free exchange of ideas is fostered, not silenced. We have submitted a public records request for more information concerning the District’s speech policies, and we trust that the District will take immediate action to protect the rights of students to engage in peaceful political speech in its schools.”
Canyon News made a press inquiry to Jeanne Hruska regarding the statement by the ACLU, but did not hear back before print.
The Epping High School Board has moved its Thursday, April 18 school board meeting from Epping Town Hall to the Epping Middle School Gym to accommodate a larger crowd for a public forum. The public will be able to share concerns over the dress code policy. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.