Rainbow crosswalk at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.
Temporary rainbow crosswalks and speed bumps as part of an anti-hate campaign at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School were removed early after community complaints. Credit: Contributed photo

Rainbows painted on crosswalks and speed bumps as part of anti-bullying and anti-bias activities at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School were prematurely removed from the school parking lot amid criticism from some people in the community.

The multicolored stripes were installed March 24 at no cost by Ramsey Asphalt Construction to kick off the school’s “No Place for Hate” campaign, a student-led program to address bullying and bias incidents.

On Tuesday, maintenance staff covered the rainbow-colored stripes with white paint to the surprise of many supporters, who expected the display to remain all week or even longer.

“There’s been a lot of public outcry to the school actively painting over the rainbows,” said Harry Mullin, a graduate of the high school and a board member for Santa Ynez Valley Pride. 

He said no one with the organization or the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance had been told about the decision to remove the rainbow designs earlier than planned. 

Mullin and GSA members met with Principal Michael Niehoff, who had given permission for rainbow crosswalks to remain in place for at least a week. 

“He says he got a bunch of emails that were very upset about indoctrination, grooming, all of that, which was very much not the goal of anyone involved,” Mullin said. 

School leaders, including board members and the superintendent, ordered the removal of the rainbows, Mullin was told.

They suspect a planned open house Wednesday at the campus served as the main reason for the removal, “because the administration is probably scared of the conservative parents of students seeing the rainbows and being upset,” Mullin said. 

“That very much seems like it was very much in play,” he added.

In solidarity with GSA, other student groups canceled their events aimed at celebrating diversity, according to Mullin.

“The students are very upset about this whole ordeal,” Mullin said. 

On Tuesday, a joint message from Niehoff and Superintendent Andrew Schwab noted that they had received “many emails with different perspectives on what the painting of the crosswalks represents for the community.”

“We agree that our schools should not be politicized or used for outside agendas that cause division or disrupt school activities,” they said. “We remain committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students and will continue to seek ways to include the diverse perspectives of our community in future activities.

“The crosswalks were always intended to be temporary and will be restored to their original state prior to the forecasted rain this week. Thank you for your cooperation, and we look forward to continuing to engage with one another in a civil and constructive manner for the benefit of all our students.”

Associated Student Body leaders said they would continue to promote inclusion on the campus.

“We’re so sorry our school is failing to protect your right to feel safe and welcome on this campus. We were told to hold back on commenting on an incident concerning blackface a few months back so we could release a statement when we officially became a ‘No Place For Hate’ school,” according to an ASB statement posted on social media that questioned whether the program would be effective for the Santa Ynez Valley campus. “We want to make it clear that moving forward, our ASB class will continue to do everything we can to make sure all students feel safe and their voices are heard with us.”

Santa Ynez Valley Pride and the Santa Ynez High School PTSA also have released statements of support of the inclusion message.

“The executive board of the Santa Ynez High School PTSA are deeply troubled and saddened that during a week of ‘No Place for Hate’ the crosswalks, that were painted the vibrant colors at the student leaders request and represented love and tolerance, were painted over. We can do so much better.”

The campus has been rocked by controversy involving allegations of racism, homophobia and more.

Two recent graduates of the high school have been charged with stealing a pair of pride flags in Los Olivos and Ballard, burning one, with the incident shown on social media.

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.
Workers use white paint to remove rainbow displays on speed bumps and sidewalks at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. Credit: Contributed photo

Niehoff also contended that the high school “was unintentionally pulled into a divisive issue in the community and school administration made the decision to restore the crosswalks to their original state yesterday after school,” he wrote Wednesday, referring to a Solvang dispute.

Solvang recently rejected a request to hang Pride Month banners on city light poles for June and to paint rainbows in crosswalks temporarily. The proposal has drawn strong support and equally strong opposition.

After meeting with GSA club students, the principal said he recognized the decision left many “feeling disappointed, sad and let down.”

The high school hosted the SYV Latino Leadership Conference and started two new organizations, the Black Student Union and the American Indian Club, the latter of which involves the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

“My goal as principal is to create an environment that builds trusting and connected relationships between students, staff and parents,” Niehoff said. “I recognize the importance of the high school being a welcoming and supportive place for all students.”

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.