A Montana high school held a “color wars” contest before Homecoming, but what was intended as a good-natured exercise in building school spirit turned ugly when a few kids showed up wearing shirts with the words “white pride,” the Washington Post is reporting.
High schools across the country have games and events in the week leading up to Homecoming, and Polson High School in rural Montana is no exception. For years, Polson had a “color wars” contest where freshmen wore green, sophomores wore blue, juniors wore white, and seniors wore black. Whichever class had the most students dressed in the designated color won. The contest had gone on for years without any sort of problems, Polson District Superintendent Rex Weltz said.
Until last week, that is. Two students from the junior class — a male and a female — showed up in white t-shirts. Using a marker, the kids had written “White Pride” and “Trump 2016” on the back.
— KPAX Missoula News (@kpaxnews) September 30, 2016
The male student’s t-shirt bore a Confederate flag and the word “REDNECK.” The female had taken a marker and written the phrase “WHITE POWER” in all capital letters on the front of her shirt. Both the Confederate flag and the phrase “White Power” are considered hateful by some groups.
— Indigenous (@AmericanIndian8) October 1, 2016
School officials asked both students to change their clothes immediately, but in the age of social media, the damage had already been done. Photos of the teens in their outfits had been making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media platforms by the time school officials were able to intervene.
Whether the students intended their “white power” costumes as a joke (an episode of Modern Family a few seasons ago made a joke about a similar misunderstanding), school officials haven’t found it funny at all. In a statement via KPAX-TV (Missoula), Weltz said that racism would not be tolerated at Polson High School.
“The Polson School District does not and will not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form toward any person. As a District, we are disappointed in the actions of those few students and will take appropriate action based on our policies and procedures, which may include discipline for the individual students.”
In the past, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been known to come to the defense of public school students who have gotten into trouble for expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech. However, in the Montana case, Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana said that schools have a duty to police for racism.
“It is important to remember that, while all students have First Amendment rights, schools have the authority and the responsibility to prohibit speech that is harmful to other students, and to maintain a safe learning environment.”
It appears that other students at Polson High School were as outraged at their fellow students’ actions as the adults have been. Before the Homecoming game last Friday night, a small crowd gathered at the game to protest the shirts. Some bore signs with such slogans as “Native Lives Matter” and “Hate is a learned behavior.”
— Montana Public Radio (@mtpublicradio) October 4, 2016
As of this writing, it is not clear what discipline, if any, the students involved in the “White Pride” t-shirts will face. Students at public schools are protected by privacy laws and schools cannot discuss student discipline publicly.
Do you believe the kids who wore “white pride” t-shirts to school should be punished?
[Featured Image by Raywoo/Shutterstock]