PARK SLOPE, Brooklyn (PIX11) -- At dozens of schools across New York, the back-to-school clothes worn by students got far less notice than what was being worn by their teachers. Hundreds of them engaged in what they called a protest against their union by wearing t-shirts bearing slogans supporting the NYPD.
"If he can put his opinion on top of the whole union," said teacher Jessica Regevik, referring to United Federation of Teachers, or UFT, President Michael Mulgrew, "then every union member should stand up for ourselves."
Regevik ordered the shirts with the slogans "New York's Brightest Supports New York's Finest," and "#ThankYouNYPD" after Mulgrew threw official UFT support behind the August 23rd Staten Island march and protest against police brutality. The march was organized by Rev. Al Sharpton, in the wake of the death of Eric Garner in police custody on July 17th.
"What happened was a terrible tragedy," said Karen Lane, a librarian at P.S. 124 in Brooklyn, "and it's not our place to be deciding who's guilty and who's not guilty."
Every school year, PIX11 News and other journalism outlets cover stories about students who wear t-shirts to school bearing political messages, who get suspended for them. Earlier this year, an upstate New York student was suspended for wearing an NRA t-shirt to class. The school later dropped its suspension order.
When asked if it was ironic that teachers could wear message-bearing t-shirts and not face suspension, the teachers and staff at P.S. 124 pointed out that they had received support from their principal, and said that their shirts don't criticize or detract from any cause.
"I don't see it as a political message," said Lane. "I just see it as we want our children to respect policemen, to respect firemen, to respect teachers, to respect everybody."
Parents at P.S. 124 also expressed support for the action, which included at least a half dozen teachers and staff at their children's school. At least 550 shirts were printed and sold citywide, according to organizers of the teachers' t-shirt display.
"I think it's fabulous," said P.S. 124 parent Wanda Urena. "They're giving thanks for making sure the kids are okay in the schools. I think it's a great thing."
Parent Ernesto Colon concurred, saying that Garner's death cannot make the entire NYPD look bad. "They're still doing their job trying to take care of us and to protect our kids."
For its part, the UFT pointed out, through an emailed statement, that no union political action money had been used in the UFT's support of the Staten Island rally, at which Mulgrew spoke, and "scores of UFT members joined the march."
The statement also acknowledged some teachers' disapproval of the union's involvement in the August 23rd protest. It pointed out that some teachers' union members "posted angry messages on the UFT Facebook page."
"But our union has a proud legacy of engaging on social justice issues and of supporting and strengthening our communities," the statement goes on to say. "The Aug. 23 march -- where our members joined representatives of the NAACP, a former governor of New York State, and many other local unions -- should be part of that legacy."
There are no known plans by teachers to wear the pro-NYPD t-shirts again on Friday