Students at a Northern Virginia high school were wondering this week why administrators took down their hand-drawn posters promoting diversity at the school, even though they believed they had obtained approval for the display.
Now they have their answer, but many aren’t happy about it.
The diversity poster project at Patriot High School in Nokesville was the brainchild of students in the International Club. On Monday evening, they put up posters in the Ronald Reagan hallway, each one with a message echoing the school’s “As one” motto.
As one, we are immigrants. As one, we are Latino. As one, we are Asian. As one, we are Muslim. As one, we are Black. As one, we are LGBTQ. As one, we are women.
The final poster paid tribute to the school mascot: As one, we are Pioneers.
The students said the posters promoted inclusiveness and acceptance of groups who often feel marginalized. But by noon Tuesday, the posters were all down, by order of the principal, Michael Bishop.
The administration gave no explanation at the time, according to eight students and parents contacted by The Washington Post. None wanted to be named because they said they feared reprisal.
Bishop declined an interview request. Prince William County Schools spokesman Philip Kavits wrote in an email: “It surprises me tremendously that even a handful of students and their parents might express such a concern. That’s particularly true since PWCS has well-established avenues for use in expressing any legitimate concerns about administrators — the news media is not the path most would take.”
Kavits also said the students were not given final approval to put up the posters, a point students and parents dispute.
The imbroglio at the school is taking place against the backdrop of widespread student protests in the wake of a divisive presidential election and battles over racial, cultural and sexual identity that have become particularly heated on high school and college campuses.
After the posters were removed, students voiced their displeasure in class and on social media. Some frustrated students said they believed that the posters were taken down because of the complaints of a few classmates. But there was no explanation from the school’s leaders.
A petition was circulated in school and online asking for the posters to be put back up.
“Many students and teachers were confused by how the posters themselves could be causing a disturbance or concern, since their sole purpose was to make minority students feel represented and accepted,” the petition said in part. “The real disturbance in this situation was caused by the students who felt that the promotion of acceptance and diversity was an affront and an attack on them and their subsequent decision to disturb the peace and cause a fuss over the display. Instead of dealing with the real cause of the problem, the students who are so opposed to diversity and acceptance, the administrators decided to remove the posters.”
Patriot High opened in 2011. With about 2,770 students, it is one of the largest high schools in Prince William. State data show that 55 percent of its students are white, 15 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black, 11 percent Asian and 7 percent multiracial.
On Thursday evening, Bishop addressed the controversy in an email to the school community, acknowledging that “things got off on the wrong foot and we are hoping to change that.”
“As you may know, Tuesday, the International Club put up some posters promoting inclusion,” Bishop wrote. “They mentioned several groups, but unfortunately, others in the school felt left out. Something intended as a source of positive discussion rapidly became disruptive to our educational routine. That’s why we temporarily took the posters down, and why we now need your help.”
Bishop did not elaborate on which groups felt left out — or why. He told students that a suggestion box would be made available Friday for them to “offer their thoughts about the many groups that need to be represented as part of our inclusive community.”
Once the suggestions have been collected, new posters and the original ones will go back up, Bishop said.
“With your input and involvement, we hope to make the posters more effective and the discussion more meaningful to advancing . . . our goal of creating a school that functions ‘As One,’ ” he wrote.