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Visiting South Orange Students Refuse Photo With Speaker Ryan

About half the students in a group of South Orange Middle School 8th graders touring the Capitol in D.C. this past week refused a photo with House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to students on the field trip. (Some SOMS students on the trip were still en route to the Capitol on buses.)

Elissa Malespina, a school librarian who is also the parent of a SOMS eighth grader, reported that her son was among the students who declined to pose with Ryan for a photo.

“I am so proud of my son,” Malespina wrote on Facebook.

The kids gave reasoned opinions for their choice — and said they were not fueled by partisanship.

“I think that taking the picture represents that you agree with the same political views and I don’t agree with his political views so I chose not to be in it,” said Wendy Weeks, an 8th grade SOMS student.

“I can’t take a picture with someone who supports a budget that would destroy public education and would leave 23 million people without healthcare,” said 8th grade SOMS student Matthew Malespina.

“I didn’t want to be in [the picture] because he believes in most of what Trump believes in,” said another SOMS 8th grader, Louisa Maynard-Parisi.

However, many students chose to participate in the photo — even if their political views differed from Ryan’s.

“I thought it would be interesting to see one of the nation’s lawmakers in person even if I strongly disagree with many of his views,” said Alex Klint, an eighth-grader at SOMS.

Many locals expressed support for the students who opted out on social media; others had reservations.

“I’m sort of torn on this (although each kid has the right to make this choice),” wrote one SOMA resident. “Even though I totally disagree with everything he stands for, he is a legitimately elected official and represents our government at work. Meeting our representatives is an honor for a kid–at least for what the office stands for (even if the person occupying that chair is less than honorable). And I do feel if there had been some conservative school where the kids refused to pose with President Obama, we would have been appalled by that.”

Matthew’s mom said she supported her son’s decision. “I am proud of my son and all the other students who chose to respectfully not to participate in the photograph with Speaker Ryan,” wrote Elissa Malespina, in a message to Village Green. “My son does not believe in the policies that Speaker Ryan believes and does not want to be associated in any way with him or his policies. It is his right as a citizen to do so and I commend him and his fellow students for doing so in a respectful way. Listen to the children they get it.”

On Monday, May 29, South Orange-Maplewood Superintendent of Schools Dr. John J. Ramos Sr. added his voice to the conversation, issuing a statement to the community stating, “”While we should all respectfully and appropriately acknowledge those in authority, taking a conscientious position about a photo op is within our constitutional right. We are proud of all of our students, who exercised their rights and chose whether or not to participate for their own individual reasons.”

Updated 9:41 a.m. May 26 with a quote from a student who chose to participate in the photo with Speaker Ryan. Updated May 29 to note that about half the students on scene at the Capitol opted out of the photo: some SOMS students were still en route to the Capitol on buses. Updated May 29 with a response from South Orange-Maplewood Superintendent of School Dr. John J. Ramos Sr.

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