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RIVERSIDE, Mo. — The interim principal at Park Hill South High School is apologizing. Students say he told them to take of shirts supporting unity at a girls volleyball game.

The shirts said “together we rise” and were meant to be a positive message. However, many of the players say the principal’s actions show them they need to support unity now more than ever.

Sisters Abbie and Isabell Day stand behind the message. Abbie, a senior at Park Hill South, and sophomore Isabell both play on the volleyball team.

“We wanted to come together, especially after the year we’ve had and really unite together,” Abbie said.

Abbie said she saw the shirts at the Parkville Unity March over the summer and knew she wanted to use them for a bigger purpose in her senior year of high school. She thought using the volleyball team as a platform in her last year of high school would be the perfect place.

Last Tuesday, the girls played North Kansas City High School, which also decided to wear the shirts for warm-ups. 

“We were told that we couldn’t wear the shirts, and our principal stormed onto the court and told us we weren’t allowed to wear them,” Abbie said.

The girls said interim principal Dr. Kerrie Herren made them take the shirts off.

“I was just really embarrassed. We were wearing them with the other team, and we had to take them off in front of them, and it was very frustrating. Like, why do we have to take them off?” Isabell said.

“It was extremely embarrassing and disappointing because we were wearing them in unity with North Kansas City, and they had to watch as we took the shirts off and they got to keep theirs on,” Abbie said.

The girls said after the game, Herren explained to the team why he made them take the shirts off. They said he used a hypothetical example of students wearing shirts supporting the Ku Klux Klan or any political movement.

However the girls said unity isn’t a political stance — it’s a human one.

“We don’t want to sponsor any student speech. We want that to be owned by the student so that we don’t censor any type of student speech,” Herren said.

Herren said what he did and said was a mistake, and the girls can wear the shirts from now on.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I hurt you,” Herren said. “I’m sorry that I may have embarrassed you. I’m sorry that my quick action ultimately had bigger consequences than what they had at the moment, and I would like any opportunity to continue the conversation and make it right.”

“I want to work with them on how to make things better and how to prevent this from happening again,” Abbie said.

The girls wore their shirts Tuesday night for their game against Staley High School without issue. The Park Hill School District sent a message to parents apologizing for the error as well and supported the girl’s message.