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School, students look to ease tension after gay pride painting covered by pro-Trump images

BURIEN, Wash. – A high school tradition turned into tension at a South King County high school.

As they do at the end of every school year, Highline High School students painted a giant rock called ‘Spirit Rock,’ which sits in the school’s front yard.

This year’s image was the gay pride flag.

But not long after, and in the middle of the night, the pride flag was painted over with an American flag and the name of the president, Donald Trump.

Things got emotional after photos of the pro-Trump Spirit Rock painting showed up on social media.

Most of the pride flag and Trump sign paintings have since been painted over, but now Spirit Rock is totally off-limits for everyone.

The school district is planning a ‘listening session’ for parents and students to come up with ideas on how to move forward.

“I was a little mad,” said senior Juliana Bartolome. “I guess you could say that.”

“I want everything to be over,” said freshman Mya Santos, “Summer’s almost here.

“I was very surprised that like something like this would actually happen at my school,” said Santos.

Some kids complained the pro-Trump message painted over the gay pride flag on Spirit Rock did more to divide than bring together the diverse community of faculty and students.

“It’s kind of like the fact that it was used to cover up the flag and there was a SnapChat screenshot where someone had said ‘fixed it,’ said Santos. “It’s like, what are you trying to fix?”

(Before and after photos courtesy of Mara. @jahmara_143)

“That’s just a reflection of very few people at our school,” added Bartolome.

Some students told Q13 News many of their friends walked out of class on Friday in protest.

A security guard will now watch over Spirit Rock to make sure no new messages are added.

On Monday, students gathered for an assembly to talk about resolving tensions on campus. A meeting on Thursday planned by school officials invites parents to join the conversation.

“I think we are open to whatever solutions are out there,” said Highline School District spokesperson Catherine Carbone Rogers. “We know that it’s going to involve training for staff around how to sensitively guide students through issues of freedom of speech and acceptance and tolerance of embracing people who have different opinions.”

The King County Sheriff’s Office said the painting incidents did not reach a level warranting criminal investigation.

The listening session planned for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the school’s library is open to Highline families and neighbors.

The school district sent this message to families on Monday:

Dear Families,

I know we are all concerned about tensions at our school related to last week’s events. I have received many emails and phone messages expressing your concerns. It is clear from your messages that there are misconceptions and misinformation in the community about what has and has not happened at HHS in the past week. I want to assure you that at no point have frustrations escalated to confrontations or violence.  As a precaution, we have had extra security on campus, and we will continue to do everything in our power to keep our students safe at school.

This morning, we gathered all students in the gym, where both Superintendent Enfield and I told them we want to hear their thoughts, concerns, and ideas for resolving current tensions on campus. Then we dismissed students to their advisory classes, where teachers, the superintendent and members of her team facilitated conversations with groups of students. We also invited students to share their experiences and ideas on paper.

The notes from today’s conversations will help us plan the next steps we will take together as a school community in the coming school year. We have invited students and staff to join us in planning over the summer. Interested students can sign up in the school office. Several innovative ideas have already been suggested, including a student-published newsletter on tolerance and acceptance, a student-led assembly to share personal stories, and training for staff on addressing race and equity.

Next year, we will focus on learning to better accept and respect each other, regardless of our beliefs, backgrounds, identities, or political opinions. This is critical work for all of us--students, staff and families.

I am inviting families and members of our community to be part of this healing. I know many of you would like the opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas. Please join me this Thursday, June 15 at 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. for a listening session in the school library. I want to devote this time to hearing your suggestions for how we can move forward as a school community.

Thank you for your continued support of our students.

Sincerely,

Vicki Fisher

Principal