The safety pin crisis in the Shawnee Mission School District

When is a safety pin ... more than a safety pin? After Donald Trump's election as president.

When is a safety pin … more than a safety pin? After Donald Trump’s election as president.

Shawnee Mission School District officials have told employees they shouldn’t wear safety pins in school buildings. As a result, all hell has broken loose this week, continuing into Wednesday.


On Monday afternoon, the district issued an inane joint statement — with the NEA Shawnee Mission — and posted it on Facebook. Here’s an example of the prattle contained in the district’s missive:

“We ask staff members to refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty–unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.”

Two things about that part of the statement.

— The safety pins are not “symbols of divisive and partisan political speech.” Read about the origin of the safety pin movement here. It began in the United Kingdom after the Brexit vote this year: “A woman known as Allison, who started the initiative, said she wanted the pins to be a ‘gesture of silent reassurance’ that anyone being abused would not stand alone.”

And I won’t be coy: Of course the Nov. 8 election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has played a role in spurring people to wear safety pins nationally the last two weeks. But the pins truly are expressions of support for others.

— “We ask staff members….” is not a clear directive telling employees they can’t wear the pins. You “ask” me to do something, I might do it. I also might not.

What is the penalty for an employee who does not do as the school district “asks”?

UPDATE 10:40 a.m. Wednesday: The online Shawnee Mission Post is asking readers what they think of the ban on teachers wearing the safety pins. Surprise: 60 percent so far are saying “yes” in the unscientific poll with 375 responses.

Other events that occurred after the district posted its statement occurred on Tuesday. In order:

UPDATE 11:45 a.m.: The ACLU wrote a letter Tuesday telling the district to “reconsider the prohibition on staff wearing safety pins.” The civil rights group essentially said the ban is “outrageous and contrary to the inclusive values of equality and freedom that we share as Americans.” Oh, and ask pitiful Kris Kobach what going up against the ACLU is like.

UPDATE 2 p.m.: The district’s Facebook post had attracted more than 235 comments, many complaining about the policy.

Good for the teachers and other staff for raising good questions for the district administration to consider when possibly revising their policy on safety pins.

UPDATE 4 p.m.: Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson was quoted in a KCUR story saying: “Any political speech that’s disruptive, whether it’s a flag or safety pin, we’re going to deal with it all the same. The school house is not the place for students to be exposed to any type of political indoctrination.”

That last statement seems nonsensical. Schools are for education, and sometimes that means examining political indoctrination and evaluating it, to see whether  thinking students want to embrace or reject it.

UPDATE 5 p.m.: Check out the ACLU’s sharp counter-response to Hinson’s comments about the controversy.

The next Shawnee Mission Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Nov. 28. Let’s see if this topic makes  the public part of the agenda.




10 Thoughts.

  1. Yael, Just like Laura Ziegler’s piece today on KCUR with various religious leaders, I think they are either afraid or anticipating intimidation. Essentially they are educating our offspring to not think or discuss issues.

  2. Followup to my note. This issue on Safety Pins reminds me of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1968 when John and his younger sister, Mary Beth, when John was 15, wore black arm bans against our involvement in Viet Nam to school in 1965. This case went to the US Supreme Court and the kids won. John is a friend of ours and lives in Fayette, MO.

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