An Oklahoma school district is facing backlash after two Black siblings were removed from their classrooms last week for wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.”
The controversy first began in late April when Jordan Herbert’s 8-year-old son wore a Black Lives Matter shirt to class at Charles Evans Elementary. Herbert said the principal, Denise Brunk, told him to turn the shirt inside out, in a detailed account on social media.
“It made me mad and sad,” third-grader Bentlee Stapleton told KXII-TV. “They pulled me out of P.E. and told me to put my shirt inside out and then I started playing.”
Herbert said she asked Brunk what dress code policy her son had violated and was told Ardmore City Schools superintendent Kim Holland said politics were not allowed in school.
“My son is 8 he has no idea about politics and wearinga Black Lives Matter shirtshas NOTHIN to do with politics,” Herbert said on Facebook. “He’s simply sayin his life matters.”
Principals make final decisions regarding dress code, according to the 2020-2021 Elementary Schools handbook on the district’s website. The nine-point section on dress code only mentions that shirts and tops with “saying or logos” should be school appropriate and in good taste.
Herbert said she met with Holland on May 3 after the first incident and was told her children wouldn’t be punished if they wore Black Lives Matter shirts again and “respectfully” refused to change them.
Holland told The Ardmoreite that Herbert was offended by a principal having her son turn the shirt inside out and the pair could not come to an agreement regarding the apparel.
“It’s our interpretation of not creating a disturbance in school. I don’t want my kids wearing MAGA hats or Trump shirts to school either because it just creates, in this emotionally charged environment, anxiety and issues that I don’t want our kids to deal with,” Holland said.
Holland recalled cases from the middle school early in the year and said there were likely similar cases at other schools across the district. “Most of it has not been an issue until this lady here has been angry about it and I wish she weren’t so upset,” Holland said.
Last Tuesday, the day after the meeting with Holland, Herbert sent all three of her sons to school wearing matching Black Lives Matter shirts.
Hours after sending her children to school, Herbert said in a Facebook post that she received a call from Brunk and was informed that her son Bentlee had to do his school work in the front office. She later learned he did not go outside for recess and ate lunch in the office.
Herbert also received a call from her 5-year-old son Rodney’s school, Will Rogers Elementary, telling her that she needed to either bring him a different shirt or let the school give one to him, the New York Times reported. Because Rodney did not change shirts, he sat in the office until school was over.
Jaelon, who is in middle school, faced no consequences for wearing his shirt, according to Herbert.
Holland said the three students were not in any trouble and described them all as “wonderful.” He said the issue may cause the board of education to review the dress code further.
On Wednesday, Herbert and a small group of supporters gathered outside Bentlee’s elementary school. Then on Thursday, Herbert said Bentlee wore the same Black Lives Matter shirt again and was able to attend class but was bullied by some of his classmates.
“He tells me one little boy told him his life doesn’t matter and another one told him just get suspended your mom doesn’t care about you!” she said on Facebook.
On Friday, the ACLU of Oklahoma sent a letter to Holland, Brunk and James Foreman Jr., president of the Ardmore City School Board of Education, calling the incident a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights, the New York Times reported.
The ACLU said the school district must reverse its policy or be ready to prove in federal court that wearing the Black Lives Matter apparel creates “a substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.”
This is not the first time Black Lives Matter apparel has caused controversy in schools. In February, a Florida high school’s girls’ basketball team was told it could not wear Black Lives Matter shirts in warmups before a playoff game. Similarincidents date as far back as 2016, when an Arizona school district superintendent apologized after a sophomore was banned from wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
Contributing: Michael D. Smith, The Daily Ardmoreite
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg