Administrators in a Maryland school system ordered teachers in a local school to remove a series of posters intended to express American diversity and created by Shephard Fairey, best known for his iconic Hope image of Barack Obama, after they were deemed to communicate a political stance.
At Carroll County Public Schools, Maryland, a group of teachers at Westminster High School put up the posters in their classrooms. Each poster, part of Mr. Fariey’s “We the People” series, depict American women—including a Muslim-American and an African-American—above captions such as “We the People Defend Dignity.”
Administrators in the school system took issue with the posters over concern that they broke school policy that prevents teachers from using classroom materials to sway students politically. A spokesperson for the school district said they had concluded the posters expressed "a negative view of Donald Trump," a decision made after researching the poster series. Fairey, for his part, has said that the imagery in the posters are "a pointed reference to people who have felt attacked by President-elect Donald Trump."
NCAC is in the process of writing a letter to the school district that supports the argument that teachers must fairly present all arguments to their students. However, it will argue that the simple act of displaying “We the People” posters does not take a political position on a controversial issue, nor does it violate a Maryland law that prohibits government employees from engaging in political activities while on the job. In fact, the posters advance civic education by serving as catalysts for discussions of important questions concerning race, identity, and citizenship.
As NCAC’s letter will examine, the removal of the posters also creates a dangerous precedent that will stifle dialogue about political issues. The CCPS spokesperson states that teachers are required to present “both sides” of political issues. While this is an easy task with regards to elections, policy debates, and partisan politics, looking at the images it is difficult to envision the “other side” of the posters.
The good news is that students are fighting back Sarah Wack, a 2012 alumna of CCPS, has started a fundraiser to create t-shirts displaying images from the “We the People” series. Students plan to wear the t-shirts on Wednesday, March 1, to protest the administration’s censorship.
Stay tuned for NCAC’s letter.