Parents, community members implore SMSD leaders to reconsider safety pin stance

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It was standing room only as Johnson County residents made their voices heard over a little gesture with a big message.

Last week, the Shawnee Mission School District said its teachers can not wear safety pins, in a show of solidarity to group’s that feel marginalized, such as members of the LGBTQ community, minorities and immigrants.

The district started Monday night’s meeting by reading a brief statement, saying in part that they view the wearing of safety pins as a political statement, and they’re worried about the disruption they may cause in the classroom. The statement said the district has a duty to protect its students and staff from political indoctrination.

Parents and community members balked at the idea, saying the only political meaning the movement has is from what the district assigned it. The pins are worn by members of the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties. The movement does not request wearers of the pins to support any political party or idea.

Supporters say it's only a show of solidarity and assurance to people that you are a “safe” person to interact with. Many at the meeting pointed out that the wearing of these safety pins predated this month's United States general election in other countries.

Since the election, folks have been wearing them in the U.S. amid reports of a spike in bullying and hate crimes. Parents shared their stories Monday night, including the real fear of some students in this district that they may be deported. Some say the wearing of the pins falls in line with the district’s anti-bullying policy, and that asking teachers not to do it, violates their constitutional rights.

“Teachers should be able to express themselves. This is a positive thing. It’s not political at all,” said Kelly Sime.

“Most people wear crosses to show their religion, and I feel like that’s okay to wear symbols,” said Kelly’s 8-year old son Owen, who was wearing his safety pin to earn his “duty to God” Cub Scout badge.

A former school board member even spoke out, asking Shawnee Mission to reconsider. Many said they don’t know of another district in the state or otherwise banning the pins. At least one person who spoke said the decision to ban the pins makes Shawnee Mission seem “laughably small minded.”

Following the public hearing, the school board continued onto agenda items, without saying if it will take under consideration the community feedback it heard Monday night.