UPDATE: Louisiana Association of Educators meets with St. Martin Parish superintendent over ‘Chucks & Pearls’ controversy

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UPDATE: BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (KLFY) — The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) went to St. Martin Parish after reports of teachers being sent home for wearing “Chucks and Pearls” T-shirts.

LAE discussed member concerns in relation to the incident that happened on inauguration day. The group said, “LAE felt it was improper for administration to have required educators to remove their jewelry and tennis shoes.”

Superintendent Al Blanchard Jr. listened to LAE President, Dr. Tia Mills. She provided him with the historic context behind the symbolism of Chuck and Pearls, and how they represent “forward mobility for women and people of color and were not meant as a political statement.”

According to LAE, Superintendent Blanchard agreed it would be prudent to send all employees affected by the issue a letter of apology for the misunderstanding.

Blanchard issued the following statement Friday evening:

On Wednesday, I was informed that a few employees were wearing t-shirts of a political nature, and there was fear of a disruption of the educational environment of that school.  School board policy and Louisiana law prohibits political activity by employees during the school day.  The school exercised an exception to our dress code policy that day, calling for a jean day for teachers.  The expectation has traditionally been that students and employees will wear spirit shirts that emphasize spirit for their school.  Again, it would violate school board policy and our dress code to wear a shirt for a political activity purpose at any time during the school day.

With that information in mind, a decision was made to enforce school board policy and require that any political statements be removed or hidden. 

Since that time, I have had an opportunity to meet with the teachers involved, and they provided an explanation of their intent and purpose.  They assured me that they did not intend to engage in political activity, but rather, they were expressing support of their sorority and pride in our country’s first female vice-president. 

During this election cycle and those before, we have tried to keep politics our of the schools and classrooms.  We have had to address other employees on a few occasions for apparel or comments that were political in nature.  It was never my intention to insult these teachers, the sorority involved, the sorority system or women in general.  I apologize if it was taken in that manner, as that was not my intent.  I am the father of three daughters, and I firmly believe that they are entitled to the equal pursuit of their goals and dreams.      

Superintendent Allen Blanchard, Jr.

Superintendent Blanchard added no one was asked to remove jewelry or shoes saying, “Our policy addresses shirts with slogans and that’s the only clothing we addressed.”

ORIGINAL STORY: BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (KLFY) — A T-shirt is a hot topic in St. Martin Parish schools, but is it a celebration, a political message, or both? On Wednesday, as the country inaugurated a new president and vice-president, some teachers who wore a T-shirt with “Chucks & Pearls” on it to school were told to cover it, change, or go home.

It happened at Breaux Bridge High. About a dozen teachers and staff wore the shirt or something similar to it on inauguration day. It wasn’t until about lunchtime at Breaux Bridge High School teachers heard they were doing something wrong.

By the end of the day, teachers across the St. Martin School District were being told the shirt with Chuck Taylor shoes and pearls was a political statement that doesn’t belong in the classroom.

The superintendent of St. Martin Schools, Al Blanchard, released a statement saying, “The Board maintains a policy that prohibits employees from wearing clothing, pins or other items supporting candidates or political messages.”

Breaux Bridge High School teacher Joy Trahan believes her clothes Wednesday didn’t fall under that category.

“It says ‘Chucks & Pearls’ only. No 2021. No nothing. Not even in the colors of a party,” Trahan argued.

You may have seen the fashion statement of Wearing Chucks shoes and pearls this week. The two pieces of clothing are often worn by Vice-President Kamala Harris. She even wore pearls to her inauguration Wednesday, a moment several women watched proudly celebrating in their own way.

Kamala Harris wearing Chucks on the campaign trail

“It wasn’t political. It was an empowerment of women,” Trahan said. “This was a historical moment if anything, not political, and we teach history. That’s social studies, so I don’t see how they want to twist and turn that to political.”

Superintendent Al Blanchard said, “Neither myself nor the board intends to suppress nor promote any candidate or political philosophy,” admitting he’s had to enforce the policy on both sides.

To Trahan, this wasn’t supposed to be a moment about sides. To her, it was a moment about unity apart from any political affiliation.

“It didn’t matter who the woman would have been. Every woman should have been happy about it, and whether it was ‘Chucks & Pearls’ or a different slogan for different women, I don’t see what the issue is,” Trahan added. “It was brought up as political by them not us, so it’s like it’s what they want to view it as basically. It’s their mind view, their perspective that just took it the wrong way.”

Trahan said her fellow educator friends in other parishes did not have the same experience as her and were told nothing about what they wore.

News 10 did ask St. Martin Parish School District Superintendent for an in-person interview. He declined, providing a statement instead.

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