Removal of Posters in Westminster High School Sparks Controversy

Images by Shepard Fairey for the Amplifier Foundation.Images by Shepard Fairey for the Amplifier Foundation.

On Feb. 16, several teachers at Westminster High School were asked to take down posters that they felt promoted diversity, but administration believed carried political connotations, deviating from the apolitical conduct teachers are supposed to follow in class.

These posters, often referred to as “We the People” posters, were originally designed by Shepard Fairey for the Amplifier Foundation and depict Muslim, Latina, and African American female figures in a patriotic style, similar to posters seen during President Obama’s campaign.

Administration asked teachers to remove the posters on the grounds that they had acquired a partisan political connotation, despite even the Amplifier Foundation claiming that they’re nonpartisan. According to McDaniel graduate student Mariah Ligas, who is currently a student teacher at the school, the posters were believed by administration to be partisan “because they were used in the Women’s March and because the artist is anti-Trump.”

Nonetheless, Ligas adds, “Teachers have been arguing that the posters support diversity, which is in [their] job description… but the county decided that they are too political because of their background.” Ligas cites the COMAR, a code of conduct that all Maryland teachers are to follow, which indicates that teachers are supposed to support diversity.

After students and teachers approached administration about the decision, the posters were again deemed acceptable; however, asserts Ligas, word came out over the weekend that the posters would again have to be taken down. An individual who originally raised the concern complained again about the posters. This time, the matter went all the way up to the Board of Education Superintendent, who reaffirmed the decision on Feb. 22.

Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for the Carroll County Public Schools, reported that teachers are allowed to have posters in their classrooms, so long as they are a part of the curriculum. Additionally, she states that teachers cannot take political stances in class.

Students, too, have weighed in on the issue. On this, Ligas says, “I would say that the majority of the student population at Westminster agrees that the posters are bipartisan.” At the same time, though, Ligas states that some members of the school’s Young Republicans Club, for example, “…are saying that the posters would’ve been fine if we also had pictures of white people next to them.” Nevertheless, the club’s president, Ryan Novanty, personally sees no issue with the posters.

Student resistance has been fruitful. Westminster High alumna Sarah Wack started what became a highly successful online fundraiser. Current students, says Ligas, used the over $5000 raised to purchase 500 t-shirts that include the designs of the posters. Students passed out all 500 shirts on Feb. 28 and wore them to school on March 1. The school, however, received a bomb threat around 12:40 p.m. and was evacuated, Emily Chappell reported for the Carroll County Times, but school still ended on time.

Unanticipated news coverage, with the story even being picked up by the Washington Post, has brought both an influx of support and criticism. While several high profile endorsements of the students’ actions have been made, students and the school have been subject to several threats.

Action related to the taking down of the posters is continuing on March 3. The Westminster community has organized a Rally for Diversity to take place at 3 p.m. at the Board of Education Office, and is to include speakers from local organizations such as PFLAG and the NAACP. Ligas states that the planners want to keep the event bipartisan, as it seeks to promote diversity as a bipartisan issue. As the scale of the event expands, rumors that Ku Klux Klan members will attend the event are circulating. As of the writing of this article, details are still developing.

Overall, despite the current controversy, Ligas believes that “Westminster High School, in general, makes a big effort to be inclusive and diverse.”