FOREST GROVE, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of Forest Grove High School students walked out of class on Thursday morning and marched into downtown.
The 9:45 a.m. walkout was established to protest a banner that was hung in the school on Wednesday during lunch hour.
Students from other high schools in the area, including Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard and Aloha walked out in solidarity as well.
The banner, according to Connie Potter, the Chief of Staff for Forest Grove Public Schools, read “build a wall.”
Potter says the banner was only up for a “brief moment” and was taken down by the principal within a minute.
The “build a wall” sign is assumed to have a connection to Donald Trump’s comments supporting building a wall between the United States and Mexico.
The Forest Grove district has the highest percentage of Latino students in the Portland metro area.
Potter says two students hung the banner and have been disciplined. “It was taken down because it was unauthorized and we also believe that it was put up to create a disruption,” superintendent Yvonne Curtis told KOIN 6.
One of the students responsible for the banner wrote an apology letter to the community, which was posted on a public blog. The student writes that the banner was hung in protest to what the student sees as restrictions on free speech. The student understands why it was seen as racist and apologized to anyone who may have been hurt.
On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.
“A lot of people say it’s a first amendment right, it’s freedom of speech,” said Hugo Salmeron, Forest Grove High School student body president. “But there’s a difference between spreading awareness and just being hateful.”
“Students have free speech rights, as long as it’s not disruptive and complies with whatever procedural requirements the school may have,” free speech attorney Charles Hinkle said.
The hashtag #StandUpFG has been used on social media to discuss the story.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.