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Mother Banned from Elementary School for Breastfeeding

On the morning of November 5, 2014 Maegan Rae Shoemaker says that she was banned from James E. Plew Elementary School in Niceville, Florida for breastfeeding her baby. She contacted the Equal Opportunity Specialist for Okaloosa County Schools and he asked her to provide him a written statement of the events. Here is her written statement.

 

Dear Steve,

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me earlier this morning. As requested, here is a detailed letter about my experience at Plew Elementary School with Principal McAllister.

I attended the regularly scheduled Mile Club event with my niece, as I have done every Wednesday since the fall school semester started in 2014. After her Mile Club was over, I decided to keep walking for additional exercise while awaiting the mile club of my nephew to begin.

My 8.5 month old exclusively breastfed daughter was getting hungry, so I decided to take a few mins to feed her on the bleachers set up next to the track. I first took her off my back, and used the soft structured carrier that she was riding in, as a cover. I pulled down my shirt and attached her to my breast while being conscious that no one could see. After she was finished eating. I pulled up my shirt and removed the carrier as it was blocking the line of sight from all the children.

I received a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Mrs. McAllister standing there. She told me that she received a complaint from a parent and asked if I would agree to use a cover while breastfeeding on the schools’ property for the future. Flabbergasted, I nodded my head in agreement, and she proceeded to walk away.

After a couple minutes of quiet contemplation, I felt impressed to go and notify her that Florida Law permits me to breastfeed anywhere that I myself am permitted to be, with or without a cover.

http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0800-0899/0800/Sections/0800.03.html

As I entered the office, she was talking to the receptionist and a lady behind her in a desk as well. As I entered I smiled and notified her that I will not honor her request to cover up my baby. I told her that I myself do not eat under a cover and so refuse to feed my child under one. She told me that I either need to do that or that she would provide another location away from the children for me to breastfeed in.

I asked here where that would be, and she stated that I could have fed my baby under the pavilion close by on a picnic bench. I was surprised that she would still have me unexposed on school property, and merely reiterated that she was unlawful in her request. She proceeded to say that “I am not going to argue with you, but you are not welcome on this property if you are going to do that.” “Do what?” I asked her, “Breastfeed?” “I never said you can’t breastfeed”, she said. “Then what is the, “THAT” which you are referring to since you are being unclear and vague?” I asked. She then avoided the question and said that she is trying to protect the children. I proceeded to tell her that the parents shouldn’t be sexualizing the breast, while I am sitting there using it for its intended purpose and being persecuted. Then she said “Excuse me” about 4 times as I was reiterating the legality of her request. “I am not going to argue with you”, she said again. Then she asked for my name and I refused to give it to her. I told her I was not arguing, but will be notifying the authorities.

As I turned to walk out the door, I could hear her calling for Deputy Thomas to be paged, and continued to hear them call her over the intercom. I walked down the street and was nearly 2 blocks away from the school, when Deputy Thomas and Mrs. McAllister pull up in the Sherriff car. I told the Deputy that I refuse to talk to Mrs. Mcallister further. As I turned to walk away, Deputy Thomas said she wasn’t finished with me yet, so I turned back around and stood awaiting her request. Deputy Thomas proceeded to tell me that I was no longer allowed on school property. When I asked her why, she answered that the Principal is allowed to prohibit someone from the property and is not required to state the reason, but that it could be for something as simple as exhibiting violence. I replied that I was not being violent and that it was illegal to ban a mother from a school property because of breastfeeding.

Mrs. McAllister chimed in that she wasn’t telling me that I couldn’t breastfeed, to which I responded that she was. Deputy Thomas took down my Name, Date of Birth, Address, and Social Security Number (Which she had to ask me for twice because I refused to give it to her the first time) She proceeded to radio the information in and check for my understanding as to what the trespass ordinance meant. I advised her that I still walk to pick up my Niece from school, and that if they would notify her, I will be in the church parking lot across the street from now on. Deputy Thomas agreed that she would tell her, and we turned from each other and walked away.

I feel that Mrs. McAllister is ok with me breastfeeding as long as I follow all her terms on school property. Those terms are not lawful to request. I am now unfairly prohibited from a school property and feel like this is an unjust solution. I am active with the school, attend parent teacher conferences, mile club, book fair events/spanish nights and bring my niece medicine for her health and bring her lunches as well.

Please help us figure out a better solution.

Thank you for your investigation and help,

Maegan Rae Shoemaker

 

Ms. Shoemaker says that she also contacted the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Department. She has yet to hear back from the law enforcement agency or the school. She has also left messages for the ACLU and the NIP Hotline (1-855-NIP-FREE).

News stories:

NWF daily News

 

UPDATE: 11-9-14

Ms. Shoemaker has been advised that the trespassing order will be rescinded, but is still waiting for the school to submit the necessary paperwork to the Sheriff’s Department.

A Nurse-In has been schedule for 11-10-14 at 6pm CST at the school board meeting taking place at 120 Lowery Place SE, Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548. 

James E. Plew Elementary School has reportedly shut down their phone lines as well as disabled posts to their Facebook page and continually deleted comments regarding the situation.

Ms. Shoemaker was hand delivered this letter…

10257361_10204741844081859_6564151018825043099_o

Upon receipt of this letter Ms. Shoemaker was asked if she was in agreement. She stated that she was not in agreement and asked that the school issue an official apology, rescind the trespassing order, train staff and add breastfeeding laws to parent/teacher handbooks.

Ms. McAllister has stated that she has received nothing but positive feedback about her actions. Since we know that this is not true, Ms. Shoemaker encourages everyone to copy the media when e-mailing Ms. McAllister your respectful messages. Ms. McAllister can be reached at [email protected] and please copy  [email protected] or [email protected]

Ms. Shoemaker recreated the breastfeeding scene from that day in this photo.

1385831_10204741913403592_7198811773258438576_n

***A note about the accusations of her behavior and being called “belligerent;” Breastfeeding is a controversial topic in the US as we have been able to see from this story and many others. Breastfeeding mothers often feel vulnerable and on the defense. Breastfeeding in public adds another layer to these feelings. While we would like to say that we would act perfectly in the face of harassment  many of us would admit that we may become emotional. Ms. Shoemaker’s behavior after being harassed is a result of the harassment; it is not independent of the situation and she cannot be judged solely on that. The incident began with breastfeeding harassment. That is what this story is about and why I advocate for mothers. 

 

UPDATE: 11/14/14

Ms. Shoemaker reports that the nurse-in went well. Another nurse-in will be held on December 8th when she will be on the agenda to speak with the school board. The school has lifted the ban(with conditions) and made it into a warning. The school has not issues an apology. The superintendent refused a meeting with Ms. Shoemaker stating that the issue has already been resolved.

 

***This post will be updated as Ms. Shoemaker’s story unfolds. 

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