If you’re familiar with Clovis Unified School District (CUSD), you’re probably also familiar with a few of its characteristics: its high-achieving student population, the conservative area in which its schools inhabit and it’s typically conservative values – that is, for a public school district.
Early last month, David Roberts, a long-time substitute teacher for CUSD was banned from from Clovis West High School for wearing a Black Lives Matter button while substituting on campus.
Roberts was told by an instructional assistant that his button offended students and their parents and that CUSD employees were to maintain political neutrality while on campus.
CUSD is hailed for its educational success, and people are quick to attribute their conservative values to said success.
By asking employees like Roberts to remain “politically neutral,” Clovis Unified is stifling their employees’ First Amendment rights in the most basic sense.
Clovis Unified faced fire earlier this year when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged its gender-biased dress code that banned boys from having long hair and wearing dresses and earrings. Male students on Buchanan High School’s campus protested the school board’s decision for a divided dress code by wearing dresses on campus.
Despite coming under fire for its conservative dress code, CUSD’s school board voted to maintain the strict dress code until April of this year, when it opted for a more gender-neutral dress code.
As earlier stated, Clovis Unified’s success stands firmly upon its conservative values, however, it could also be thought that it’s closed-minded nature is problematic for the learning environment.
Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants responded to the controversy by saying “It is our expectation that employees attempt to remain neutral in their speech and/or behavior in order to promote a learning environment free from distractions.”
However, as a future educator, I question Clovis Unified and its decision to call these individual rights and beliefs “distractions.”
Opinions that challenge mainstream groupthink help grow the learning environment. Diverse thoughts and values broaden conversations and belief systems among students and their peers, as well as students and their teachers and administrators.
In addition to the stifling freedom of speech and writing it off as a distraction to the educational environment, reinforcing things like a gender-biased dress code and asking employees not to make a political statement through accessories like a button also make students who don’t fit into a particular box – it’s worth mentioning that more than 40 percent of CUSD’s student body is white – that their otherness isn’t valid in the eyes of their institution of learning.
The city of Clovis and Clovis Unified School District write off much of why they make the decisions they do as “the Clovis way of life.”
However, this way of life does nothing to confront the diverse set of beliefs and values as they stand in 2016’s America. No matter how hard they try to hide behind their traditionally conservative values, the fight to maintain inclusivity will not end with the dress code.