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Maryland high-schoolers plan protest after posters promoting diversity are removed

Students at a Maryland high school are planning to protest after posters promoting diversity were taken down because some in the community viewed them as critical of President Trump.

Teachers at Westminster High School in Carroll County hung posters earlier this month with the slogan “We the people are greater than fear” and the image of a woman wearing an American flag hijab, according to Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for Carroll County Public Schools. The posters were taken down after complaints, sparking a debate about whether they “were more about diversity than anti-Trump or political,” Gaddis said.

“While they’re diversity posters, they have been used at the Women’s March and at anti-Trump protests,” she said. “There was a segment of people that perceived them as political posters.”

Some students objected to the idea that promoting diversity would be controversial. Sam Schoberg, a 17-year-old senior, said students planned to wear T-shirts featuring the image in protest March 1.

“Diversity is a bipartisan issue,” he said.

Ryan Novotny, a 17-year-old junior and president of Westminster High’s Young Republican Club, said he agreed.

“I kind of don’t understand what the political aspect is that the school board says they’re seeing,” said Novotny, who supported Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) in the Republican primary. “I don’t see any at all and don’t understand how it could be offensive to anyone.”

Gaddis said students would not be prevented from wearing the shirts, which are being made with the help of a crowdfunding campaign that has raised more than $5,000.

“Of course the students can do that,” she said. “Students have First Amendment rights. Employees have limited First Amendment rights.”

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Sarah Wack, who graduated from Westminster in 2012 and helped to organize the crowdfunding campaign, said Carroll County, which is 93 percent white, doesn’t have to be perceived as unwelcoming to minorities. About 70 percent of voters in the county cast a ballot for Trump, while Democrat Hillary Clinton received 24 percent of the vote in the November election.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t try to make it better for kids now and kids in the future,” Wack said. The school is about 60 miles north of Washington.

The image on the poster was created by Shepard Fairey for what he called the “We the People Campaign.” Fairey, who also created the iconic Obama “Hope” poster in 2008, said he found it “disturbing that someone could find those ideas specifically, and by extension inclusion in general, to be partisan or problematic.”

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“The ‘We the people’ messages were intended to be things all Americans could unite behind,” Fairey wrote in an email.

This is not the first post-election poster controversy in a Washington-area school.

A principal at a high school in Prince William County ordered hand-drawn signs promoting immigrants’ rights, women’s rights and gay rights taken down earlier this month. Those posters were allowed back on the walls at Patriot High School a few days later.

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