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COURTESY PHOTO - A banner with the words 'Build A Wall' appeared briefly on the cafeterial wall at Forest Grove High School Wednesday.Students at Forest Grove High School staged a walkout and protest this morning after a sign with the words “Build A Wall” emblazoned on it in appeared briefly on campus Wednesday, May 18.

Several hundred students marched, chanting and singing, from the FGHS campus on Bonnie Lane to the school district administration office on Main Street.

In Hillsboro, Hilhi students rallied in solidarity with FGHS outside their school at the same time Wednesday, holding signs saying "Hilhi stands with FG."

The three-word banner, which was hung in the school cafeteria, is the latest racially-charged incident at FGHS and represents a clash between those who regard such messages as free speech and those who believe they are blatant bigotry.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, development director at Centro Cultural de Washington County in Cornelius, said in a Facebook post responding to the banner that “while some people see this as standing for their 'rights' and 'values,' the Latino community struggles to justify our humanity.”

The FGHS student body is about 50 percent Latino.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Hillsboro High students rallied this morning in solidarity with Forest Grove High students protesting the appearance of a banner at their school Wednesday that read 'Build A Wall,' a political reference to illegal immigration. 
Sparked by campaign rhetoric during the presidential primary season, the "Build A Wall" slogan technically applies only to illegal immigrants but seems to have become shorthand for anti-Mexican sentiment.

Placement of the banner this week follows an incident in March in which a FGHS student called an African American teacher the "n" word; a Diversity Week program several weeks later; and, most recently, efforts by some students, including Angie Flores, to take the prejudice issue to the Forest Grove School Board on May 9.

Forest Grove School District Chief of Staff Connie Potter described Wednesday's incident as “very brief.” It happened during the school's second lunch period and the banner “was taken down immediately,” she said.

Potter said two students who hung the banner “were disciplined,” but for confidentiality reasons she couldn't say how.

Ironically, the banner was placed over another sign that read, "Spread the word to end the word," a reference to halting use of the word "retard" among students.

But Gonzalez's message focused on bias against Latinos.

“It's not right. It's hateful. It's misguided anger,” said Gonzalez, whose younger sisters attend FGHS. “If we want to advance as a society, as a united community, we need to stand up against this racism and hold the individuals [responsible] for these acts accountable.”

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