Michael Williams, a longshot Republican candidate for governor, intends to ignore the warnings of the Cherokee County Schools superintendent and stage a protest at River Ridge High School Wednesday.
Seeing a political opportunity in a teacher's request that two students wearing "Make America Great Again" T-shirts turn them inside out in the wake of the violent Charlottesville rally, Williams initially planned to protest last week. He alerted the media, but then discovered Cherokee schools were closed for fall break, suggesting he is not that familiar with the county. He rescheduled for this week.
The teacher said she made the request in August in a pre-calculus class because white supremacists and neo Nazis had co-opted the Trump slogan during the deadly rally. A highly regarded teacher who also teaches the AP classes, Lyn Orletsky was placed on leave for her actions. When I asked Cherokee to update her status, I was told, "We're not commenting on her status due to the ongoing administrative investigation. A certified math teacher is substitute teaching in her classes as we search for a replacement."
Williams may be misreading the county in his decision to persist with his political event over the objections of the school district. While there are Cherokee parents who share his dismay at the actions of the teacher, many have commented on social media they don't want their children's school day interrupted or their kids used as props to score political points.
It would make more sense for Williams to target the Cherokee school board rather than a high school largely full of people too young to vote or without the authority to act.
Here is the Cherokee County Schools statement, followed by the candidate's response:
On behalf of the Superintendent, this message is to advise you that the protest you've scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, according to your social media posts, will not be permitted on the River Ridge High School/Mill Creek Middle School campus or any other CCSD school campus, in accordance with federal and state laws.
Unfortunately, your protest was planned and announced by you and your campaign without any prior conversation with the Superintendent or his staff. During today's conversation, you were advised of the current situation regarding due process for the employee to whom you have referred.
We have determined that your protest, while advertised by you as "peaceful," cannot be guaranteed as such, and will significantly disrupt teaching and learning and may endanger the safety of more than 3,200 students and staff.
While we strongly support the Constitutional right to air grievances through peaceful protest, we support the courts' interpretation that this right is limited in regard to school campuses. You may be unaware that the RRHS/MCMS campus, which serves Grades 6-12, has no public sidewalks or adequate right-of-way for congregating or parking; the signage you've advertised as your protest location is on school property.
In the interest of public safety and preventing a disruption of school activity, access to the RRHS/MCMS campus will be restricted all day on Wednesday, Sept. 27, to anyone other than RRHS/MCMS students, employees and parents who are dropping off/picking up their children or participating in other school-approved activities. Students, employees and parents are to bring appropriate identification.
School police officers and other public safety personnel will be monitoring the driveway entrances and elsewhere on campus to ensure students and employees stay safe and secure; and the campus will be on Code Yellow all day (no outside activities). Traffic likely will be impacted; we encourage students to ride the bus and all drivers in the area to consider alternate routes.
Again, we strongly support the Constitutional right to air grievances, and, to that end, we invite you to consider an alternate location at our Dr. Frank R. Petruzielo Educational Services Facility at The Bluffs in Canton. This campus includes a flagpole courtyard, which would provide a location for you and your supporters to congregate, and there is the opportunity for parking; please contact Police Chief Mark Kissel if you are interested in this location, so we can ensure adequate parking is available.
Also, please be aware that our School Board's next meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 at the facility at The Bluffs. The meeting is conducted in public, and the agenda is published on our website one week in advance. The Board hears public comment at all of its meetings, and the guidelines are posted on our website as well.
As we have repeatedly stated publicly, and to you in a phone conversation earlier today, we do not agree with the teacher's actions, and we support our students' Constitutional right to express political opinions. As you were told today, the Superintendent has authorized an administrative investigation, which is ongoing, and, as a result, we cannot discuss disciplinary action to ensure the Constitutional right of due process is afforded to all employees.
Barbara P. Jacoby
Chief Communications Officer
Cherokee County School District
And here is what Williams responded:
Once again, the school is attempting to ignore the rights of Trump supporters to express their 1st Amendment rights. Just five-days after Cherokee County Chief Marshal Ron Hunton told the Cherokee Tribune that our protest was lawful, the school is claiming it unlawful with threat of forceful police removal. The school claims to have pre-determined that our peaceful protest, 'will significantly disrupt teaching and learning and may endanger the safety of more than 3,200 students and staff…' The arrogance of such statements is insulting to myself and our peaceful protestors. We will not be intimidated by your deceitful statement meant to prevent our lawful right to assemble. The protest will continue as planned. Once again, this school has failed to properly handle simple situations. Very disappointing.