Cheerleaders are usually known for their school spirit, but a high school squad in North Carolina displayed their political spirit last month, holding up a “Trump 2020” sign at a football game. The political display ended up online, when a photo of cheerleaders and their sign was posted on Facebook.
Then, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) put the squad on probation. However, both the high school and Stanly County School District said the probation did not mean the squad was suspended from cheering.
“Neither Stanly County Schools nor North Stanly High School disciplined the cheerleaders for this action,” a spokesperson from Stanly County Schools told CBS News via email. The spokesperson said the squad was not suspended and cheered at the September 13 game.
However, the spokesperson said the sign violated a school board policy that prohibits the distribution of political campaign material at school events or school publications.
“This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities,” the spokesperson wrote. “Because the cheerleaders were in uniform and were acting as representatives of the school, the display of the sign could be perceived as the school or school system endorsing a political campaign,” the spokesperson continued. “For this reason, the only action Stanly County Schools has taken is to ask the cheerleaders not to display the sign again.”
The terms of the probation were not initially defined, and Stanly County School District said it asked NCHSAA for additional information.
In an emailed statement to CBS News on Tuesday, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker clarified the terms of the probation, saying it is not a punishment.
“It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior that could bring additional sanctions, including penalties such as a fine or suspensions, should infractions persist,” the statement read. “By NCHSAA Handbook Policy, probation may last for a period of up to one year. In the incidence concerned, no opportunities for participation were limited.”
Many are outraged that the cheer squad held up a political sign during a school-affiliated sporting event. Some, however, are outraged that they are being put on probation for practicing their First Amendment right.
The photo posted on Facebook on August 30 received a range of comments. “As much as I DON’T agree with that banner… it is their right as young adults to support whomever they want. I understand this is a football game, but as long as they don’t interrupt the game… I don’t see an issue with the banner,” one person wrote.
“This is ludicrous,” another person commented on the photo of the “Trump 2020” sign.
“They only did it to see if they could get people upset,” another commented. “I understand that it’s their right… but they ain’t even old enough to vote.”
Several other people, including a North Carolina conservatives Facebook group, opposed the NCHSAA’s decision to put the squad on probation.
The Stanly County Schools spokesperson said the focus of Friday night football games should be on the kids – not politics. “For this reason, we are hopeful the situation will resolve, and our student athletes can have a successful fall season and unite the Comet school spirit for the remainder of the year,” the spokesperson wrote.