Cheerleaders at a North Carolina high school were put on probation after a picture of them with a pro-Trump banner during a football game circulated on social media — and some people aren’t happy about it.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association placed the cheerleading squad at North Stanly High School on probation for the remainder of the season, Stanly County Schools announced Monday.
But the NCHSAA “has not defined the terms of the probation,” and the team is expected to continue cheering, the school district said in a release.
“The focus of Friday night football games should be on our students – the players, cheerleaders, band members – the focus should not be on politics,” officials said. “For this reason, we are hopeful the situation will resolve, and our student athletes can have a successful fall season.”
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told McClatchy news group in a statement Monday that probation — which can last up to one year — is not a form of 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,” she said.
The NCHSAA can issue subsequent fines or suspensions if those actions continue, Tucker said.
In a photo posted on Facebook Aug. 30, at least seven North Stanly cheerleaders in uniform are seen posing around a banner reading “Trump 2020: Make America Great Again.” The students appear to be on a high school football field with referees in the background.
North Stanly High School is roughly 40 miles east of Charlotte.
Commenters questioned at the time whether such political messages were allowed during a school-sanctioned event.
“Why in the world would the school board allow this to happen,” one person wrote. “I am sad and very disappointed with NS. This is a High School football game, not a political rally. Shame on them.”
The following day, district officials issued a statement confirming the act was not endorsed by the school or its staff.
A student reportedly brought the banner and the photo was taken before the game started, officials said.
Stanly County Board of Education policy bars political advertisements on campus or at school events, according to the statement on Aug. 31 . The district also said it does not make political endorsements.
“This policy does not prohibit students from speaking their minds or engaging in protected First Amendment activities,” district officials said in the release Monday. “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 cheerleaders were not punished by the school or district, but officials have asked them not to display the sign again, the district said.
Residents have taken to social media to share their concerns over the the NCHSAA decision.
Some community members created an event on Facebook scheduled for Friday night to support the cheerleading squad, which they say was wrongly punished.
“Please come out and help me show the school and the NCHSAA that freedom of speech is not dead,” the event description states. “Please bring all your Trump and MAGA gear and lets throw our support behind the North Stanly High School cheerleaders.”
More than 90 people had RSVP’d by Monday afternoon while another 749 people had marked themselves “interested.”
“Ridiculous!!! Whether or not you like the president should not play a factor,” one person wrote on the event page. “We live in a country with freedom of speech!! Let those girls cheer!!!!”
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., sent a letter to NCHSAA officials Thursday asking them to walk back the decision.
“As the representative of Stanly County, I am appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech,” he said.
Hudson added that students should be allowed to partake in the political process, saying they “did not cause a scene, participate in a protest or break any school code of conduct.”