BOE, Guthrie comment on removal of 'We the People' posters

Emily Chappell
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times
BOE, Guthrie comment on removal of 'We the People' posters

The Carroll County Board of Education stood by the school system's decision to remove posters from a few Westminster High School classrooms, and gave direction to Superintendent Stephen Guthrie to create clearer policy and regulation for future incidents.

Guthrie and Board of Education President Devon Rothschild addressed the recent incident where a few Westminster High School teachers were told to remove "We the People" posters they had hung in their classrooms. School system officials said the posters, which they deemed to be anti-President Donald Trump, violated policies that say educators can't take a political stance in the classroom.

Guthrie acknowledged at Wednesday's work session there are "varying opinions on the message conveyed in these posters." But, he said, the posters were not removed because they dealt with diversity, but rather because they carry a political message.

Both Guthrie and Rothschild reiterated the board and school system's support of a diverse environment through statements they read Wednesday.

"Carroll County Public Schools, the superintendent, the board and staff support a climate of tolerance, unity, acceptance and inclusivity within our schools," Guthrie said.

Rothschild echoed those sentiments, and said the Board of Education reaffirmed that support when it sent a letter to all employees about its commitment to tolerance.

"As a board, we will continue to take actions that promote a culture of acceptance," Rothschild said.

The posters were "We the People" images showing Latina, Muslim and African-American women in the same red, white and blue schematic of the "Hope" election posters for Barack Obama. Both were designed by Shepard Fairey, who told The Los Angeles Times in January that his imagery was "a pointed reference to people who have felt attacked by President-elect Donald Trump."

Since the posters were removed last week, students took to online crowdsourcing to raise more than $5,000 for shirts bearing the banned image. Students plan to wear the shirts Wednesday, March 1, in protest of the removal of the posters.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, also spoke out against the removal of the posters in a news release sent out Wednesday, Feb. 22.

"Educators have an important responsibility to foster a learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming for students of different backgrounds," Zainab Chaudry, CAIR Maryland outreach manager, said in the release.

"Particularly in this tumultuous political climate, forcing teachers to remove pro-diversity posters not only chills free speech in public schools, it also sends a hostile message to the student body that their differences are not valued, appreciated or celebrated."

Other political items in classrooms have come to light since the posters were removed at Westminster High School.

A figurine depicting Hillary Clinton as a nutcracker was found in a Manchester Valley High School classroom. Carroll County Public Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis confirmed the item was found in a classroom and has since been removed.

The Board of Education talked about other ways to promote diversity through poster contests where students could create images to represent inclusivity.

"While staff and students have First Amendment rights subject to reasonable time, place, manner and restrictions within the school setting, classrooms are designed and should be promoted to convey and promote the approved curriculum," Guthrie said.

emily.chappell@carrollcountytimes.com

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