STANLY COUNTY, N.C. — A football game was abruptly canceled Friday night amid a political controversy at North Stanly High School, the school district said late in the afternoon.
It comes after the North Carolina High School Athletic Association put the North Stanly High School cheerleading team on probation for taking part in a political message at a game.
Students and cheerleaders apparently posed for photos with a "Trump 2020: Make America Great Again" flag last month, and the photo circulated on Facebook.
"I don't think it's right," resident Heather Serrano said. "You can't have a flag at the game. They called parents and said not to bring flags."
Stanly County Schools tweeted late Friday afternoon it was notified of "additional information that could compromise safety measures in place for sporting events."
Officials said that "safety is our first concern."
A mom who has three students at the school said that she understands why the district canceled the game over safety concerns.
"Instead of it being about the kids and the school and school pride and all that that, the high schoolers have now -- it's about politics," mother Stacy Herlocker said.
Hundreds on a Facebook support page for the cheerleaders have said they'll come to Friday's football game at the school to wave American flags.
The cheerleaders will be on probation for the rest of the season. District policy bans political ads at school events.
"If the administration was made aware, they would have asked them not to display it," school officials told Channel 9.
Rep. Richard Hudson sent a letter in support of the cheerleaders, reading in part, "At the end of the day, these students have a First Amendment right to free speech, and the NCHSAA should immediately reconsider this unfair punishment."
Stanly County Schools released the following statement on Facebook the day after the game:
"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. 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. Stanly County Schools respects the rights of its students, staff and visitors to express their opinions in a respectful manner on their own time, however, Stanly County Board of Education policy prohibits the display or distribution of political advertisements on campus or at school events. Further, Stanly County Schools never makes political campaign endorsements. These policies ensure that all students, staff and visitors are able to attend school events in an environment that promotes students and not a particular political viewpoint. Stanly County Schools' investigation into this matter is ongoing and we will take appropriate action as necessary to ensure Board of Education policy is followed in the future."
The district is taking a lot of heat over the issue on social media.
District officials said a social media threat was investigated Friday and deemed not to be credible. They said the school was never on lockdown.
The team was set to play Jesse Carson High School out of Rowan County.
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