Controversial sign painted over

Students painted Iola High School parking lot with political message that included white supremacist symbols. It also violated the city's policy on political signs.

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August 18, 2020 - 10:25 AM

The original version of a parking stall painting at Iola High School included letters used as white supremecist symbols. The sign has now been painted over. This photo was cropped to protect the identity of four students. Photo by Twitter

A controversial Iola High School parking lot painting in support of President Trump that included white supremacist symbols continues to draw fire over social media. 

A city code enforcement officer also said the painting violated the city’s policy on political signs. It was painted over Monday night.

Students are allowed to paint their parking stalls as part of a program that raises money for the student council. Students pay $25 for an assigned spot.

On Sunday, students painted “TRUMP 2020” across four parking stalls and at one point featured abbreviations described as code words used by white supremacists. 

One of the abbreviations was “WP,” which stands for White Power. The other, STK, could stand for two things, “Shoot To Kill,” or “Save The Kids.” The latter is a white supremacist conspiracy theory that purports underground pedophilia rings and touted by the far-right conspiracy group QAnon. 

The painting violated the city’s ordinance on political signs, Code Enforcement Officer Greg Hutton said.

He spoke with USD 257 Superintendent Stacey Fager about the ordinance Monday. At that time, Fager said the district was still evaluating the ordinance and the painting, as well as the district’s own policies regarding hate speech, and will decide what steps to take next.

The goal of the parking lot painting program is to allow students to express themselves in a way that’s appropriate for school, he said. The program does not have specific criteria to address political messages or racist remarks. 

Fager said the district is addressing the situation with the students involved. Any disciplinary action would be a private matter. 

At the same time, the district encourages students to be politically active, he said.

“We want our students to think for themselves and to be active in the political process as they transition to adulthood,” Fager said. 

“Sometimes situations happen that catch us all by surprise. We want to make sure no one feels disenfranchised in the school setting, and we definitely don’t want to have something on school property that causes uneasiness in the community.”

Students do not need pre-approval of their parking stall artwork. This is the third year the program has been offered to students. No previous stall paintings have drawn complaints, Fager said.

UNDER THE city’s ordinance 16-912 for temporary signs, political signs cannot be displayed until 45 days before an election, which would be Sept. 19.

They also cannot exceed 6 square feet in size, cannot be illuminated, cannot be located in a right-of-way and must be removed seven days after an election is held.

The parking stall sign appears to violate two of the five conditions: it’s too early to display a political sign and it’s too big.

In this case, any citation would likely apply to the property owner, which is the school district.

“This is what the code says,” Hutton said. “We try to treat everybody the same, no matter what side you’re on.”

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