LAS CRUCES, N.M. — As the divisive presidential campaign reaches a crescendo, one Las Cruces parent says his 10-year-old son was told he shouldn’t wear his Hillary Clinton T-shirt to school anymore.
Chris Walker, a fifth-grader at Mesilla Elementary, has worn his “Hillary Clinton 2016” shirt to school about once a week for the past several weeks.
Chris’ father, Philip Walker, said he called the school after Chris came home and said he was no longer allowed to wear the shirt.
“I called the principal, and asked if there was a policy at Las Cruces Public Schools prohibiting students from wearing clothing with a political leaning,” Walker said. “She said there was not, but that she was thinking about implementing a new rule saying that they cannot wear any political T-shirts in this season. Apparently, at the fifth-grade recess, some of the other kids were talking about the election and parents complained because the kids were talking about politics.”
Walker said he wasn’t angry or upset by the decision but wanted to make sure he was aware of the rules. He felt the school was just “making up rules on the fly,” he said.
“What’s next? Are you going to tell them they can’t wear Cubs or Indians shirts if they’re going to get into an argument about which team they like more?” Walker said.
Las Cruces Public Schools spokeswoman Jo Galván said school principals have the authority to modify the dress code if they feel the attire is affecting the learning environment.
“We don’t want to impede a child’s right to free speech, but our top priority is to provide an educational environment that is conducive to learning,” Galván said. “If a principal feels like something is disruptive to learning, he or she might feel the need to rein it in. And that’s certainly her prerogative.”
Galván said, as she understands it, some of the fifth-grade students have begun “making ugly comments,” particularly about Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“It is beginning to become a problem,” Galván said. “It’s creating arguments and disrupting class. Teachers are actually in the middle of their social studies unit on the electoral process right now, and they want the discussion to be about voting and the electoral process — not about the personal dynamics of the students’ favorite candidates.”
Walker said he was told his son was not among the students being disruptive or getting into arguments, but Galván said any new rules regarding the school’s dress code would apply to all students.
Lydia Polanco, the school’s principal, did not return calls seeking comment. However, Galván said Polanco has not had to impose a schoolwide ban on political clothing, and that “some discussions (Polanco has) had with a few individual students and parents will hopefully keep the issue from getting further out of hand.”
Follow Damien Willis on Twitter: @damienwillis