Depiction of Obama in mural stirs controversy

Depiction+of+Obama+in+mural+stirs+controversy

Harry Paul

Students in the main hallway look at the mural. Recently, the mural has created controversy after students created a petition against the image of Obama in the mural.

Ana Espinoza, Assistant News Editor

In the three years since the wall mural on the first floor was painted, students have become accustomed to seeing it on their daily walks between classes.   It features an image of President Barack Obama, along with depictions of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.

A group of students, led by sophomore Jacob Bloch, recently took action against the mural by way of a petition in an effort to create a tolerant, non-partisan environment for staff and students of all political standpoints.

Port Washington is a traditionally liberal area of the country, and the majority of Schreiber students with set political preferences identify themselves as liberals or Democrats.   Conservative students are in the minority.

“Let me make this clear,” said Bloch.  “This isn’t a partisan issue; this is an issue of fairness.  In a case just this past election at a polling station in Philadelphia, it was ruled by a judge that a mural depicting President Obama must be covered because it is prohibited by law, being that it can influence voters.  Is it possible that placing a mural of a currently serving politician, while having no precedent for this, may look like an endorsement of an ideology to some still undecided and unsure minors?”

Bloch created the petition, and the document was sponsored by fellow sophomores Ryan Capps, Noah Hirsch, and Andrew Varvaro.  Sophomores Michael Falzone and Joshua Curtis also supported the petition.  The group visited Principal Mr. Ira Pernick to discuss the issue, and the petition received close to 100 signatures before it was turned in.

“They had a concern about the potentially political message that the mural was sending,” said Mr. Pernick.

The petition asserted, “We do not see a free learning environment, where students can develop their own political ideas. What we do see, however, are students and staff walking down the hallways, recognizing Democratic ideas as the only ones celebrated, and consequently, Republican ideas are shunned. Therefore, we have one simple request. If there is to be a mural of President Obama, we call for an additional mural, portraying a Republican president. We see it as only fair that both political parties be represented.”

Other students have agreed with the fundamental concerns of the petition.

“I think it’s entirely inappropriate for a controversial sitting politician to be in a school mural. It gives the appearance of an endorsement of his views. Figures from history who get commemorated generally have widely agreed upon legacies.  Obama is far from being at that point, and this mural gives the impression that history has been settled on his side,” said senior Robert Gray on his Facebook timeline.

The petition also cited the Dignity Act and requested the painting of a mural of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or Ronald Reagan to rectify this issue.

“I don’t see how you can demand a piece of art to be created.  You’re degrading the artist who created the mural by demanding that someone else create some equivalent Republican version of it,” said junior Simon Shapiro.

Schreiber graduate Nick Gardella (‘10) designed the mural upon President Obama’s victory over Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.  Gardella, along with a group of fellow students, painted the mural during the spring of 2009.  He worked with Assistant Principal Dr. Brad Fitzgerald to create the mural.

Wall murals at Schreiber are usually student-designed and always approved by school administration before they are painted.

“The wall was called ‘We have a dream’ from the concept that we are all different, but come to school to reach our dreams and in today’s day and age where someone can become whoever they want to be,” said Gardella in the 2010 Port Light Yearbook.

“We want murals to have a positive message and be inclusive of all students,” said Mr. Pernick.

On Dec. 13, Gardella visited Schreiber to discuss the matter with Mr. Pernick.  He shared that the mural had no intended political message.

However, the situation has nonetheless attracted considerable attention from the local community and online media.  On Dec. 11, a conservative news and opinion website, Breitbart.com, published an article about the petition by Schreiber students. The article included quotes form Bloch and Hirsh and asserted that the mural was an example of “blatant left-wing indoctrination in public schools.”

“I opposed this article because I respect Schreiber and its staff. I think calling Schreiber a ‘hostile environment’ is hyperbolic and although the concerns of the petition are legitimate, this should not be a game of mud-slinging,” said Gray on his Facebook timeline.

By Dec. 12, the article went viral on Facebook as current and graduated Schreiber students posted statuses voicing their opinion on the mural.

As of press time, senior Michael Krellenstein’s status opposing views expressed in the article received 127 likes and over 100 comments.

“The school community—teachers, parents, students—was somewhat concerned about the way the school’s been portrayed online—it’s incited anger, frustration, and even emotional outbursts,” said Mr. Pernick.  “However, I’m confident that we will get through this.”

The petition has also created conflicting viewpoints among students and staff.

“The mural recognizes the election of the new president Barack Obama along with exploring themes of diversity and community,” said art teacher Ms. Miranda Best.  “The mural marks a moment in our national history in a respectful and appropriate way.”

“In the past, the school administration had us read parts of the Code of Conduct,” said Bloch.  “But, they are not exempt from it.  We hope to ensure that the environment of this public learning institution will always be open and that the real political decision making will be left to the students, not the administration.”