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Renoir mural getting new home

Sep 19, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

It's a sensible move likely to quell controversy

The older we get, the less likely we are to remember high school. The four formative years that prepared us to go on to college, enter the job market, or start a family become hazy in our memories as we busy ourselves with the demands of our "adult" lives.

But for people whose professional work brings them back to high school on a daily basis, I believe it is important to keep in mind the differences that exist between the lives of adolescents and the lives of grown-ups.

For one thing, as adult citizens of the United States, we have the right to freely express our beliefs even if they may be offensive to others. In general we can wear what we want and say what we want with little fear that we will be punished for our actions.

Flash back to high school, though, and you may find yourself biting your tongue. Students on school property are bound by policies that, were they enforced anywhere else, would threaten the freedoms that we have so carefully cultivated in this country.

Lockers, which students use to store personal items as well as books, are the property of the school and so are subject to search at any time. Vehicles on school property also may be searched by authorities if there is "a reasonable suspicion that an issue may exist."

Students can't leave class without a hall pass, and they aren't allowed to bring cell phones, laptops or music players to school unless the equipment is being used for a lesson.

Finally, all clothing, jewelry and personal possessions brought on school grounds must be free from violent and sexual statements or designs, double messages, and references to alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

The rules, I'm sure, are designed with safety and educational achievement in mind, and they likely contribute to a productive and peaceful school environment. As far as I can tell, high school students grumblingly accept the extra regulations surrounding their lives, and they do their best to comply with the Riverton High School student handbook -- as they should. But I can imagine it must be difficult to play by the rules when the people enforcing them, don't live by them.

My argument here is not against school regulations, which help students develop a structured and respectful attitude toward life. Rather, I'm against the hypocrisy of teachers who essentially mocked school policy last year by hanging a replica of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" on the side of the high school.

Yes, it's a Renoir, a timeless piece of artwork. But the boating party scene, which looms larger than life near the entrance to RHS, depicts friends sharing food and wine on the balcony of a restaurant. Is that really something we want welcoming our students every morning when they arrive at school?

And what kind of message about respect for the rules are we sending these teenagers, who have been reprimanded time and again for using cell phones in the hallway or wearing shirts that glorify drinking. If I were a student at the high school, I would have felt like I'd been slapped in the face when I first laid eyes on the new Renoir decor.

I was upset last year when this debate first came to light in Riverton, and I remained perplexed when I returned to town this year and saw the Renoir still hanging front and center on the high school. But after hearing superintendent Terry Snyder's take on the issue, I immediately felt better.

This school year, local officials plan to remove the Renoir painting from the RHS entrance. The art will not be wasted -- it will be moved to the school district's central office on Main Street, where motorists through Riverton can admire its elegance.

In the Renoir's place, officials will install the painting that once graced the south side of the central office. Snyder said the mural, which seems to comply with the policies that govern all students at RHS, recently fell down in the wind and is being repaired, but it eventually will hang on the high school's outer walls.

I think the solution is a good one, and I applaud Snyder for his diplomatic approach. The debate about the Renoir painting had gotten heated before Snyder moved to town; now we'll see if this move helps cool the air, or whether it ignites another spark of controversy.

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