Online fundraiser started after posters removed from WHS classrooms

Emily Chappell
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times
Incident around political posters in Westminster HS classrooms has led to a more than $5,000 GoFundMe campaign

A Westminster High School alumna has raised more than $5,000 in two days through a GoFundMe campaign to help students at the school pay for T-shirts depicting the same image that appeared on posters teachers at the high school were told to remove from classrooms.

Last week, a few 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.

Sarah Wack, a 2012 Westminster High School graduate who lives in Washington, D.C., started the campaign after learning about the incident from siblings still in the program.

Wack, who is the daughter of Westminster Councilman Robert Wack, said via email she started the campaign fundraiser after speaking with current high school students about their plans to demonstrate against the decision.

"They wanted to get shirts printed with one of the banned images but didn't know how to go about doing it. I made the GoFundMe to connect them with a larger network of alumni and community members who have the resources to make their ideas a reality," Sarah Wack said. "In the end, this is a student movement. If I were a high school student I would be right there with them, so as an alumna I'm happy to do my part by helping to fund their plans and provide whatever assistance I can."

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."

Sarah Wack said the money raised — $5,065 in two days — will go toward the shirts students will wear in school to speak out against CCPS's decision and "intolerance in our community in general." The money will first fund the shirt order, she added, and the balance will be donated to The Amplifier Foundation, the organization that commissioned the art created by Fairey.

Westminster High School students who choose to participate will wear the shirts to school on March 1, she said.

Sarah Wack's brother, Jeffrey, is a 16-year-old junior at Westminster High School and is involved in the movement.

"I feel like taking down the posters sent a negative message," he said.

After the posters were removed, Jeffrey Wack said he felt like something needed to be done to send a more positive message. Diversity and tolerance should not be removed from the classroom, he added.

Since the incident, the student movement has "gotten pretty big," Jeffrey Wack said.

The students will work to distribute shirts over a few days leading up to March 1, he added.

Sheena Patel, a senior at the school, said via email the displaying of the "We the People" images were not anti-Trump. Diversity and multiculturalism should be embraced regardless of political party, she added.

"In light of the recent political environment, people have been hostile and often hateful toward those of opposing viewpoints. Rather than to divide, our aim is to emphasize the unity and humanity that we all share as inhabitants of this universe," Patel said. "The act of banning the posters sends out a xenophobic message and shows that we are ashamed of our cultural diversity. America is, and always has been, a melting pot of cultures and our only hope through this movement is to embrace diversity and show acceptance for all colors, races, religions, sexual orientations and political viewpoints."

Carroll County Public Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said students will be allowed to wear shirts bearing the "We the People" image. Gaddis said teachers are also allowed to donate to the cause on their own time, they just can't wear or promote the shirts in the classroom.

Gaddis said CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie will be consulting with the school's attorneys Wednesday regarding the legal aspects of the incident, and to receive some direction. The incident will also be discussed at 4 p.m. Wednesday at a previously scheduled Board of Education work session.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Stephen Johnson said last week in an interview with the Times that it's school policy that while staff can discuss politics, they can't try to sway students. The goal is to get the kids to think, he added, not to influence their decisions.

"Teachers are obviously to remain neutral," he said in the Feb. 17 interview.

Gaddis said last week that when the small group were initially told by administrators to take the posters down, the teachers said the posters dealt with diversity and were allowed to put them back up. After researching the posters and what they stand for, school system officials deemed the posters to be anti-Trump and taking a political stance, and they were taken back down, Gaddis said.

"We allow political posters if it's part of the curriculum," she told the Times on Feb. 17.

But, she added, the teacher would need to show both sides, and not support one over the other.

Sarah Wack said she loves Carroll County and went through 13 years of school in CCPS. But despite her fond memories, she said the school system is "not very diverse."

"Instead of pretending that this means issues related to diversity aren't relevant to our schools, this is all the more reason to celebrate what little diversity we do have," she said. "In Carroll County, all children should feel welcomed, supported and encouraged in our schools, whether they are white, black, Latino, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish or anything else. Schools are for learning, and there are few things more valuable than learning from others who are different than you."

emily.chappell@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7862

twitter.com/emilychappell13

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