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Trump-themed float sparks controversy in Ashland

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

A Donald Trump-themed float that appeared during Ashland High School's homecoming parade this past weekend is causing controversy. A video of the parade posted on social media has sparked outrage and accusations of racism.

The video posted to Facebook shows several students on the float dressed as Mexicans behind a makeshift wall with the slogan "Trump The Birds," referring to the school's homecoming game against their rival, the Lakeland Union High School Thunderbirds. Ashland School Board President Jessica Pergolski said the float was an attempt at satire gone wrong.

"I think that anytime you bring politics into something that should just be fun, I think that you're walking a fine line of being offensive to some particular party or group," Pergolski said. "The place that we're at as a nation — I think everyone is very heated and it's kind of an emotionally charged subject at this time. It probably wasn't the best topic."

The video has been shared almost 600 times on Facebook as of 6 p.m. Monday. Xristobal Luis Ramirez Maso, who posted the video, said he was initially thrilled to see a Mexican flag coming down Main Street, but the excitement quickly turned sour.

"This float drove down Main Street, right past my office, and I saw a Mexican flag, and got really excited that there was a diversity float in the parade," he wrote. "So I ran outside, elated that this community that had welcomed me and taken me in as a member of the community member after I graduated from Northland (College) was celebrating diversity and other cultures. What I found was something that deeply saddened me."

One student on the float responded to the post, apologizing and said they had no intention of offending anyone.

"(W)e were just trying to show that this 'wall' to us means nothing, people are people, and in a small town like ours we just wanted to show others how we felt," wrote student Lauren Chantelois. "We have nothing against Mexicans, there (were) people on the back who are of Mexican ethnicity, and they didn't think it was a big deal, so we went with it."

Ashland School District Superintendent Keith Hilts issued a written letter of apology to community members, parents, students and staff. Hilts said he approved the float’s theme prior to the parade.

"I was hoping that students were interested in using current political events in the parade," he wrote. "I did not expect any racially slanted messages. I am sorry that this happened. If I had it to do over again, we would have more closely supervised the students’ work."

Hilts called the float a "teachable moment," adding that they'll have better oversight over student activities.

"This was my fault for not ensuring closer supervision," he said in the statement. "This is particularly sad because we work so hard to make all students feel welcome in our schools and this one event has undone so much good work."

Pergolski said the students are planning to come up with their own apology to the community, their parents and the school.

"Our students have now been subjected to a lot of negative comments, threats — just some pretty awful things being said about students in our community that I don’t think represent them very well," she said. "We’re working hard to talk to the students and develop a way to communicate this and make this a learning opportunity for all involved."

You can view the video and his post by clicking here: https://www.facebook.com/xris.ramirez/posts/10155254072698362?__mref=mes...

More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2016, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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