Cheerleaders from a North Carolina high school were placed on probation after picture of them posing with a Trump banner during a football game surfaced on social media, the Charlotte Observer reports.
On Monday, Stanly County Schools announced that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) had placed the cheerleading squad from North Stanly High School on probation for the remainder of the season. Because the NCHSAA “has not defined the terms of the probation,” the team can continue cheering, officials said.
"The focus of Friday night football games should be on our students — the players, cheerleaders, band members — the focus should not be on politics," they said. "For this reason, we are hopeful the situation will resolve, and our student athletes can have a successful fall season."
On August 30, a photo of at least seven cheerleaders posing with a banner that reads, "Trump 2020: Make America Great Again" circulated on Facebook, sparking a heated political discussion among users.
"This is just very sad and who ever came up with this idea needs to be wrote up!!" one person wrote. "Point is this is a school football game not a political campaign!!! I don’t know about any one of y’all but I sooooo very hate election year!! U can’t even enjoy a nice evening/day at home watching tv without the constant reruns of the political commercials at least let us have an evening out at a football game without the political campaign crap interfering!! My goodness!!"
The next day, the school district issued a statement confirming that the school and its staff had not endorsed the act.
"We are currently investigating this matter but as of this morning we have determined this was not an act planned or endorsed by the school or its staff," the statement read. "A student attending the event brought the flag into the game, which was not present when entering the gate. The picture was taken prior to the event starting."
In a separate statement to McClatchy news group on Monday, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said that the probation was not a form of punishment but warned that the association would issue fines and suspension if the team continued to carry out similar acts.
"It serves as a notice of behavior or action that is against NCHSAA Handbook Policy or contrary to expectations of sportsmanship and proper behavior," he said of the probation.
Several residents and groups have since voiced their displeasure at the NCHSAA's decision, accusing the organization of trying to stifle free speech.
"Cheerleaders at North Stanly high school Stanly County NC were put on probation for the rest of the football season for holding a TRUMP 2020 banner!" NC Conservatives wrote on Facebook last Saturday. "People said it made them feel 'uncomfortable' but this High School Athletics Association is the same nonprofit that just voted to allow boys access to girls athletic teams. They have an agenda and it’s bad for our students. Come out & show support for these kids expressing their 1st amendment rights!!"
Republican Representative Richard Hudson also sent a letter to NCHSAA officials last Thursday asking them to reconsider, the Observer reports.
"As the representative of Stanly County, I am appalled these students are being punished for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech," he wrote.