Breaking Agreement with Campus Pride Group, Santa Ynez High Paints over Rainbow Crosswalks
‘Schools Should Not Be Politicized or Used for Outside Agendas That Cause Division,’ Administrators Said
Administrators at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School on Tuesday gave the order to paint over four rainbow-colored crosswalks at the entrance to campus, breaking an agreement with an LGBTQ student organization that the temporary art installation would remain in place through the week. The project was part of a new “No Place for Hate” initiative at the school that promotes anti-bullying and inclusion.
Superintendent Andrew Schwab and Principal Michael Niehoff said in a message to parents and students that soon after the rainbow crosswalks went in they received pushback in the form of “many emails with different perspectives” on what the project “represents for the community.” They said they agreed with the critics that “schools should not be politicized or used for outside agendas that cause division or disrupt school activities.”
The decision sparked immediate outrage from the school’s GSA, or Gender Sexuality Alliance, which said Niehoff had assured them the rainbow crosswalks would remain in place until Friday. “The idea of the crosswalks was proposed by GSA leadership and approved through proper administrative channels,” the group said.
“The GSA contends that this action furthers existing discrimination and harassment on campus of the GSA, the queer community, and its many allies, and therefore is in violation of California Assembly Bill 537, the California Student Safety and Violence Protection Act, which protects individuals and student clubs from ‘a hostile educational environment.’”
In a statement, the executive board of the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) said it was “deeply troubled and saddened” that the crosswalks, which “represented love and tolerance,” were prematurely painted over. “We can do so much better,” the organization said.
In their own statement, Santa Ynez Valley Pride said it was clear Schwab and Niehoff “felt pressure from select individuals (mostly adults)” who took issue with the project. Students deserve more than the “performance allyship” displayed this week, the group said, and administrators “who will stand up for what’s right even when pressured to do otherwise.”
Schwab and Niehoff said they were committed to providing “a safe and welcoming environment for all students,” and they promised to seek other ways to include “the diverse perspectives of our community in future activities.”
The incident is reminiscent of a controversy that played out earlier this month in nearby Solvang. The city council there rejected an application to hang banners and paint downtown crosswalks in celebration of Pride Month, calling the proposal “political” and “divisive.”