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Board bans painted parking spaces

Split vote kills short-lived tradition for next year’s high school seniors

News editor and Staff writer

Before embarking on a fun and educational visit to school classrooms Monday morning, Marion-Florence school board members quashed a once-fun but recently controversial practice of letting seniors paint their assigned parking spots.

Board member Chris Sprowls made the motion to discontinue the practice next year, which was seconded by Duane Kirkpatrick. Board president Nick Kraus and Doug Regnier joined them in passing the resolution.

Tim Young, Jeremiah Lange, and Jan Helmer voted to maintain it.

Painted parking spots became an issue in late September when a student, with approval from MHS principal Tod Gordon, painted a rainbow-colored flag symbolic of lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual pride.

Backlash came in the form of vandalism, with someone covering the flag with black liquid road repair material. Gordon and others helped the student clean and repaint the flag. At least one district patron went to the district office to complain.

Social media exploded with posts both supporting and decrying the display, drawing the attention of Wichita-area print and television reporters.

More recently, Westboro Baptist Church members peacefully protested against the flag at the school.

Gordon said earlier that no specific guidelines existed for how spaces could be painted, and that he reviewed student designs with them before spaces were painted.

Superintendent Aaron Homburg said board members recognized that they should do something to address the ambiguous situation. Board member effectively chose to close one door but open another.

“They voted to discontinue the practice of painting the parking spots, with the understanding that student council and the building principal could bring ideas to the board for future consideration,” Homburg said.

Lange said he voted against discontinuing the six-year tradition because of timing. He’d liked to have gotten ideas from students to come up with a better plan.

“My part was, I thought the timing was bad because we just had the folks from Westboro and people might think it was because of that,” Lange said. “I said my thoughts on it and voted against it.”

Although messages were left for Kraus, no calls were returned by press time.

Contacted by email for his reaction, senior Logan Waner, who painted the rainbow flag, expressed dismay.

“I really don’t know what to say, but I guess congrats to the school board for taking away their students’ freedom of expression and originality,” he wrote. “I guess the board just wants students to turn on them and try to fight for what’s right.”

In other business Monday:

  • Assistant football coach Shaun Craft got the nod to take over as head coach next fall, after Grant Thierolf stepped down.
  • Dmitry Bucklin resigned as cross-country coach, saying in his letter to the board that he wanted to devote more time to teaching instrumental music and developing the bands.
  • An increase of $8,000 in the district’s insurance premium was approved. Casey Case of Case and Son Insurance said the increase was due to an increase in district property values. Homburg said the policy insures about $39 million of property, including vehicles, and costs less than three years ago.
  • Homburg and board members expressed appreciation to Chris Sprowls for 14 years of board service. Sprowls did not run for re-election and will go off the board in January.

Last modified Dec. 13, 2017

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