Community Reacts to Dr. Champ’s Decision on the ‘Thin Blue Line’ Flag

The Decision to Ban the Symbol Caused An Argument on a National Scale


NY Times/Gregg Vigliotti

George Caccavale’s daughter Carla wears the sweatshirt that sparked controversy in the school district.

Nevan Malwana, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Senior

The Pelham Public School District recently found itself mired in controversy over a decision by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Cheryl Champ, to ban high school staff members from wearing a sweatshirt honoring Pelham local George Caccavale, a fallen NYC police detective, because of a ‘Thin Blue Line’ patch on one of the sleeves of the sweatshirt. Dr. Champ cited student safety concerns saying in an email, “… we have heard directly from students and families that the Thin Blue Line flag worn by numerous well-intended staff members was perceived as threatening.” However, many members of the community saw this as a politically motivated decision.

The debate over the Thin Blue Line in the high school started when administrative assistant Lois Miceli wore the Thin Blue Line symbol on her mask. After being asked to remove the mask, some pointed to the hypocrisy in allowing some political symbols but not others. 

“Dr. Champ’s decision only further emphasizes the double standard in PMHS as Republicans are expected to accept the suppression of their political expression while Democrats are encouraged to share their views… I and many of my peers have been scared for years of revealing our political views because of how PMHS encourages a culture of intolerance against Republicans…Teach tolerance, not the promotion of one political side,” a student who wished to remain anonymous said.

George Caccavale’s daughter, Carla Caccavale, created the sweatshirt honoring her father to raise funds for the families of fallen NYPD officers as well as the Retired Police Canine Foundation. Following the ban, Caccavale said school staffers informed her they were told from the district that the Thin Blue Line was a symbol of white supremacy. Caccavale expressed the whole situation has become difficult for her family saying via an interview on Fox News, “…it’s hard for me to explain to my children, who are used to seeing the staff wear it on Friday, why a sweatshirt honoring their grandfather is no longer allowed.”

Upon hearing of Dr. Champ’s decision, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association, Paul DiGiacomo, sent a scathing letter to the district, accusing Dr. Champ of “turning students into ‘cop-haters’”, and calling the thought process going into this decision as being “patronizing, ridiculous, demeaning, degrading, offensive, and flat out absurd.” 

Pelham Manor police chief, Jeff Carpenter, also expressed disappointment at the decision, listing the numerous ways the local police assist the Pelham schools and criticizing Champ’s “instinctive” decision that “does not help solve the issues we all face.”

Following the backlash received by the community, Dr. Champ sent out an email to the district on the new official policy regarding staff political expression: “…going forward, we are committed to applying a fair and even-handed approach by disallowing all political speech regardless of content or viewpoint.” Dr. Champ reiterated the existing policy that, “students have been and will continue to be permitted to wear apparel expressing political viewpoints and messages unless the messaging results in a disruption to the school setting.”

“The meanings of so many symbols and movements have been coopted and have the potential to send unintended messages that it is a very complex time. I absolutely recognize the positive intent of those that wear clothing with the thin blue line symbol but am in a position where I have to address the impact that it, or any other symbol, has on students in our schools.” Dr. Champ said when asked what she would say to address the concerns of those who don’t see the Thin Blue Line as political.

Not everyone was against Dr. Champ’s decision though. Many students and staff expressed their support for the ban.

“I stand by Dr. Champ’s choice to ban political apparel for the faculty members… If there is an option to make all of the students in the school emotionally safe, that option is a clear winner. I take no issue with memorializing Detective George Caccavale, rather, I take issue with the Thin Blue Line flag and the connotations behind it. The most important thing to take into account in this situation is the students and their safety…” senior Ella Burns said.

Community members such as PMHS alum, NY state senator Alessandra Biaggi, and Village of Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen also stood with Dr. Champ’s decision.

Mullen posted a message of support on the Mayor’s web page in which he encouraged understanding. He said, “I hope we can all remember that the conversation we are having right now is one we’ve never really had before. We’re going to mess it up. If it’s helpful, you can rest assured that Pelham is not alone. This conversation is happening throughout America, in small towns and big cities alike. It’s bigger than all of us, and there’s simply no getting around it. The only question we can answer is one we must answer for ourselves: how do we want to show up for it? I plan to show up with honesty, forgiveness, respect for our police officers, a commitment to centering the marginalized, and a belief that as difficult as this moment is, it’s worth it. I hope you’ll join me.”

Similarly, Pelham and Pelham Manor police union presidents Det. John Hynes and Det. Paul Roberts expressed support of Dr. Champ saying, “We write to you in solidarity and commit to continuing our partnership. Our shared commitment to the safety of our students and community is unshaken and in this, we continued to be united.”

The lasting impact of this decision remains to be seen, and as the story picks up more coverage not just locally, but nationally, and even internationally, time will tell if this decision has exposed a shallow, or deep-reaching divide within this somewhat tranquil town.