"Color Wars" day turns controversial at Polson High School - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana


"Color Wars" day turns controversial at Polson High School

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A number of Polson High School juniors are facing disciplinary action after wearing shirts to school considered by some to spread racist messages.

The shirts were part of that school's Color Wars day as part of their Homecoming Spirit Week.

At least two Polson High School students have been suspended from school following an incident some are calling racially insensitive.

The students wore white t-shirts with the phrases "White Power" and "White Pride" written on them. At least one shirt was emblazoned with the Confederate Flag.

Photos of the shirts were uploaded to social media sites, eliciting strong reactions.

School officials say the shirts were made for a school competition. 

"Throughout this week we had Spirit Week, Homecoming Week. Great activities of different dress-ups throughout the week. Thursday was what we call Color Wars, which is really a class-color competition," said Polson School District Superintendent Rex Weltz.

Each class was given a different color; freshman wore green, sophomores wore blue, seniors wore black and juniors wore white.

Weltz said a list of the colors was available for weeks prior to the activity and that no one saw the potential for racial discrimination. He said this incident will not result in the cancellation of future spirit week activities.

"We had a couple kids who made poor choices,” said Weltz. “And really we don't want to pull the activity and the program away for some bad choices." 

Weltz reportedly received a number of complaints from people criticizing school faculty for allowing students to wear the shirts, but insists the students were asked to change immediately.

"I'm here to tell you that as soon as the administration knew of the situation it was addressed and a couple of students were pulled in and spoke to and alleviated the concern," Weltz said. 

But even after the shirts were removed early Thursday morning, dozens of pictures flooded social media causing outrage online.

Polson High School administrators released a press release on the issue, saying the Color Wars have been a part of Polson's Spirit Week for years and that Thursday's incident was both unprecedented and inexcusable.

They wrote that the Polson School District does not and will not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form toward any person.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana issued a statement in regards to Polson High School's Color Wars, saying: "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. The Confederate flag and slogan ‘White Power’ are symbols of hate and intolerance."

(first report)  

Controversy is swirling around the halls of Polson High School after some students wore clothing to a homecoming rally that were emblazoned with racially offensive words and images.

Pictures quickly circulated on social media Thursday of students wearing white T-shirts -- some with the words "white pride" on them. Polson Schools Superintendent Rex Weltz issued a statement Friday condemning the action of the students.

"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," Weltz said.

He explained that individual classes have been assigned colors for many years in a competition to see how many students would dress in the assigned colors for the day in a practice known as "Color Wars."

Weltz said "a few of our students took part in an inexcusable incident involving Homecoming activities" adding that the "Polson High School staff did not condone this conduct and addressed the incident with the students."

He says in a statement released to MTN News that "the Polson School District does not and will not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form toward any person."

Weltz also praised the students "who stood up against this conduct," adding that the school district will "continue to educate all of our students about our policies and practices forbidding discrimination in any form. 

Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana released a statement Friday announcing that they will investigate the incident. 

"The Confederate flag and slogan “White Power” are symbols of hate and intolerance," Borgmann said. "This incident sadly reflects how we are failing our children in teaching them mutual tolerance and respect for those of different backgrounds."

There's no word yet on whether any of the students involved in the incident will face disciplinary action. We have a reporter in Polson and will have more on this developing story as it becomes available. 

- reporting from Mark Thorsell

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