‘Cover up’: St. George mom says school district admin refused her right to breastfeed

ST. GEORGE — A St. George mother is organizing a “Nurse in” after her right to breastfeed reportedly was denied last week following an incident that occurred at Bloomington Elementary.

Shannon Anderson says she was denied her breastfeeding rights by Washington County School District, St. George, Utah, unknown location and date | Photo courtesy of Shannon Anderson, St. George News

On Aug. 16, Shannon Anderson, a mother of four, accompanied her daughter, Zoe, to her second day of kindergarten to help her ease into being at school, but while they were in the cafeteria, her month-old newborn began crying and was hungry.

Anderson told St. George News she turned away from a group of fewer than 10 kids who were in the cafeteria, brought her breast out, had her newborn latch on and then turned back around to continue helping her daughter get settled in.

She fed him for about five minutes, and then she and her husband were approached by the principal asking what her daughter’s name was.

She said they then left the cafeteria heading out to the playground while her baby was feeding again.

She said they were stopped by the Bloomington Elementary principal, Susan Moore, who asked Anderson to “cover up” because there were children present. Anderson, who was wearing a tank top, said she had no way to cover up.

“She approached and was like, ‘Hey, can you cover up,’ and I was like, ‘I can’t, really can’t. I don’t have anything to cover up right now,” Anderson said, adding that she thinks breastfeeding should be normalized.

Anderson said the principal then told her the principal will check the school policy. In the meantime, Anderson said she would keep feeding her baby. They then left. She said technically, she was never told she had to leave.

Later that night, Anderson said she sent Moore an email. She said she wanted to resolve the situation and didn’t want it to become a problem.

“I didn’t want to cause any problems or be arrested,” Anderson said. “I didn’t want the police to be called on me because I have heard of that happening before.”

Shannon Anderson (center) says she was denied her breastfeeding rights by Washington County School District, St. George, Utah, unknown location and date | Photo courtesy of Shannon Anderson, St. George News

She said in the email she emphasized state law, HB 196: Breastfeeding Protection Act, which allows mothers to breastfeed in public.

Anderson said in response she met with district administration, director of human resources Darin Thomas and principal Susan Moore, last Monday.

She alleges, they showed her multiple policies regarding breastfeeding, but it was for employees, but not for parents.

According to the policy, a private room would be provided for breastfeeding.

“They didn’t have a policy in place and it was their preference whether or not I breastfeed uncovered,” she said. “It is something that needs to be consistent and I told them I needed to see that in writing before I followed that policy.”

She alleges they told her if she continued to breastfeed uncovered, they would be within their rights to trespass her. Steve Dunham, director of communications for the Washington County School District, said trespassing was discussed as the “very last-resort option” in hypothetical terms after being asked multiple times what would happen if she continued to breastfeed uncovered and in the open at schools. He said they offered multiple options and the trespass comment could be a last resort.

Anderson then went on social media to tell her side of the story and arrange a peaceful protest, a “Nurse in,” at the school district office on Aug. 29.

Dunham released a statement concerning the incident, which said that while the district fully supports nursing mothers, there is a difference between breastfeeding in public buildings or spaces and in public schools.

By law, public school buildings are considered non-public, public spaces. This means that while a school building is public, it is not a place of public accommodation; meaning school buildings are not open to serve the general public,” the statement reads, adding that schools are for children to learn within a “safe and controlled-access environment” and “are not open to the general public.”

However, the statement says any of the district offices are places of public accommodation with breastfeeding rights allowed by law.

The district does allow a private room at all schools for breastfeeding mothers.

Anderson said that though the school district has the right to allow it, they prefer not to. She said she plans to fight for full breastfeeding rights, even up to the state level if she needs to.

“There definitely needs to be more openness about breastfeeding,” she said.

While understanding it is not her responsibility to educate other people’s children, she said she hopes breastfeeding can be perceived as natural, not sexual. It should be celebrated and not hidden, she added.

“What I am hoping here, and my biggest issue, is that their kids are going to see it anyway,” she said. “When they take them out to the park or in public, I am going to be there.”

HB 196 was passed in 2018 and does not specifically say “schools,” but Dunham said schools are covered under “institutions.”

The bill was sponsored by current Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. Her office was contacted, but she is withholding comment on this case.

According to the federal WIC, federal rights guarantee mothers rights to breastfeed but the laws vary by state. They offer expertise on breastfeeding and experts to help with challenges.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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