Protesters gather on Queen Creek Road March 4, 2019, across from Perry High School in Gilbert.
PHOENIX – Protesters carrying American flags began arriving at Perry High school early Monday after parents say school administrators on Friday demanded their children remove clothing and accessories promoting President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” logo.
A group of students wore red MAGA-themed hats and other clothing items for a spirit day with a “Party in the USA” theme last week. One student brought a Trump flag.
At least one student was suspended, according to parents.
Principal Dan Serrano has said the incident was not about stifling political viewpoints, but about maintaining a safe campus.
“If we’re going to take issue with students wearing Trump attire, then why aren’t we taking issue with the Wednesday RedForEd attire?” Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Monday, referencing the red worn to support teachers.
Townsend joined some 40 protesters, including about 10 students, near the school about 8 a.m. Monday.
Perry High School, in Gilbert, is part of the Chandler Unified School District.
Principal: It’s not about political attire
Serrano, in a response sent to parents, said the notion that students were disciplined for expressing their political viewpoints or wearing political attire is false.
Serrano said students were carrying political signs that caused a disruption and created a safety concern at lunch Friday. The students initially complied when asked to put the signage away.
The principal says the trouble began after school ended, when the students brought out the signs again.
“When the school’s resource officer asked the students to leave campus, they declined. They also refused to respond to my request to provide their names and school identification when I sought to interview them,” Serrano said.
Parents speak out
Heidi Jones previously told The Arizona Republic that her freshman daughter, Logan, was suspended for 10 days after refusing to give her name to school authorities.
“She came here today to support America, which is what your Spirit Day is all about. And now that she has refused to give her name, you’re suspending her after she’s complied with everything else?” Jones said.
Jennifer Farris, another mom with a student in the group, said assistant principals were among those asking the students to remove the Trump attire.
The mother said she was told officials considered the clothing “offensive, and that the kids were being disrespectful by wearing it and could face sanctions if they didn’t comply.
Farris, who said she is now banned from the Perry campus, provided a video to The Republic showing an interaction she had with Serrano on Friday.
Watch this confrontation between Perry High School Principal Dan Serrano and the mother of a student, Jennifer Farris.
Courtesy of Jennifer Farris, Arizona Republic
Farris said her daughter and son, who is also a student at Perry and was wearing a MAGA hat Friday, are good kids who never get in trouble.
“What did they do to deserve this and what did I do to deserve the treatment the principal gave me when I walked in?” she said. “I can see if there was an altercation and my kids were involved, absolutely bring them down to the office. But that’s not what happened.”
Protesters call for action
Perry students Jade Trovato and Tori Farris, one of the students pictured with the Trump banner Friday, joined the rally Monday in support of their friend who was suspended.
Trovato said the punishment was unwarranted. She said while some of her peers disagreed with students wearing Trump gear to school, it didn’t lead to any disruption at lunch, as the school reported.
Sophomore Steven Blackledge, 16, who attended the protest in support of students’ right to free speech, said as a conservative student, he feels that he is sometimes targeted by students and teachers.
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Classmate Sam Wurst said he joined the protest to rally behind the president.
“I’m here to support my freedom of speech and to fight not only for myself being subjected to their hate of me being who I am and believing what I believe in but I’m also here to fight for some of my friends that got in trouble,” he said. “I’m also here to support my president. Whether they like it or not he’s our president and I support him and he supports what I believe in.”
Perry High sophomores Jade Trovato, Kyle Clatt and Sam Wurst say they support students’ First Amendment right to free speech on March 4, 2019.
Paulina Pineda, Arizona Republic
Townsend called on the principal and assistant principal to apologize to students and lift student punishment.
“I don’t want to hear of any more retaliation against any conservative, American-loving student here or teachers,” she said.
Townsend read a text from House Majority Leader Warren Petersen saying he plans to introduce a petition on the floor Monday to ask Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate the incident at Perry.
A card from protesters at the school on Monday lists three calls for action:
- Lift punishment of student and parents.
- Release statement to support students right to free speech.
- Initiate an AG’s Office investigation into the the school, administration and district.
The protest was organized by Purple for Parents, a parent group created during the #RedForEd movement.
Forest Moriarty, one of the founders of Purple for Parents, said the issue goes beyond Friday’s incident. He said the group has heard from staff who feel that they are being subjected to a hostile work environment because of their beliefs.
“They feel that if you’re not RedForEd, that you have to be careful about what you say,” he said.
Follow Paulina Pineda on Twitter: @paulinapineda22.
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