Education

Confederate flags greeted Mountain Home students before protest ended

The parking space painting designed by Tamia Williams, as seen in this screenshot from Facebook.
The parking space painting designed by Tamia Williams, as seen in this screenshot from Facebook.

A protest by students at Mountain Home High School ended Wednesday with progress: They’ll be able to work with school officials to resolve a dispute over painting school parking spots as a fundraiser.

But students were dismayed by certain extreme reactions to their effort to preserve, among other paintings, a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Counterprotesters gathered in front of a home across the street with Confederate flags, and students said things escalated Wednesday with racist actions such as bringing fried chicken and watermelon to the black high school protesters.

“It was really the adults that blew it out of proportion and made it a problem, because none of the kids at school were bothered,” said Mountain Home senior Tamia Williams, who saw the food brought over. “My generation is very accepting.”

Things started simply: Seniors at the school wanted to celebrate their class and leave a mark.

They proposed a student council fundraiser that could do both. The idea was one they had seen at other schools: let students pay $45 to paint a design into a parking spot in the school’s lot. The paint would fade by graduation and then could be cleaned off with a power washer, Williams said.

It seemed like a great way to highlight students’ creative abilities and personalities. And they made sure to seek administrators’ permission before painting spots, Williams said.

Williams sketched out her design in chalk on Saturday and her friends helped her paint it in. She took a photo with it, beaming, sitting next to the hashtag she included: #BlackLivesMatter.

Later that weekend someone else posted a photo of Williams’ design on Facebook, a post Williams said was later deleted, asking for public comment. That’s when the controversy heated up.

Responses on social media included posts of “all lives matter” and denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement as racist.

According to census data, just 3 percent of the town’s residents were African American in 2010. About 83 percent were white. A newer estimate wasn’t immediately available Wednesday.

On Monday, Williams heard that her painting and all of her class’ spots were to be washed away. On Tuesday, the senior class started sitting on the the parking space to prevent that. Protests, which continued until late Wednesday afternoon, have drawn as many as 100 students.

Superintendent James Gilbert said he didn’t have a problem with Williams’ painting. But, he said, the high school administration made a mistake by allowing any of the spaces to be painted.

“The issue has absolutely nothing to do with the content in the student murals,” Gilbert said Monday. “The district does not allow students to paint parking lots with murals, just as we wouldn’t allow students to paint lockers or desks.”

James Gilbert, superintendent of the Mountain Home School District, addresses the painting of several high school parking spots - one with a Black Lives Matter motif - at Tuesday night's school board meeting.

Late Wednesday afternoon, they all reached an accord.

“Members of the Mountain Home student body and school officials are working collaboratively toward a resolution to the situation that is agreeable to all involved,” Gilbert said in a statement that the protest had ended at 4 p.m.

Williams said she and the school’s student body president hope to meet with Gilbert this week or next to try to come to an agreement. The students had always expected that the protest would end Wednesday, she said.

“Right now, all we can do is wait,” she said.

Earlier this week, Gilbert said the district didn’t oppose the students’ actions.

Williams said she mostly ignored the negative comments. But she was baffled by those who called Black Lives Matter racist, noting the movement was formed partly in response to the disproportionate killing of black people by police.

“I don’t think they understand that Black Lives Matter means black lives matter, too,” she said.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner

The Statesman’s Kristin Rodine and The Associated Press contributed.

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