Some students irked by plans to paint over, reproduce Shawnee Mission East murals

The African sunset mural in Shawnee Mission East social studies teacher David Muhammad's room.
The African sunset mural in Shawnee Mission East social studies teacher David Muhammad’s room.

News that student-painted murals on the walls at Shawnee Mission East will be covered as part of a building-wide repainting process prompted protest from students and parents this week, but school and district administrators are working to assure that the aggrieved understand the murals will be preserved — just in a different form.

Each district high school has every interior wall in the building repainted every 10 years, and the repainting process at SM East is scheduled to start next week. In the lead up to the start of the repainting process — a significant undertaking that is expected to require 30 painters working from 3-11 p.m. for up to six months — the school administration assembled a committee to determine a number of factors, including the new color scheme as well how to deal with the murals.

Though several original murals will be painted over in the process, the committee determined that their spirit could be preserved by taking high-resolution photos of them, and placing large foam-core prints of the art in high-traffic areas.

“This process will preserve the mural images and allow them to be displayed throughout the building for students and visitors to enjoy for many years to come,” said Leigh Anne Neal, the district’s spokeswoman. “This plan was determined to be the most fair and reasonable as leaving some rooms or walls untouched while painting all of the other interior spaces would have been seen as unfair and would have created inconsistencies within the interior of the building.”

That plan seems to have assuaged many who were concerned that the art would be lost forever, though some students were particularly upset about news that a work just completed this year, a large African sunset mural in social studies teacher David Muhammad’s room, would be covered up as well. Muhammad purchased the supplies for the mural, and compensated the student artist, Sarah Cook — with Chick-fil-A. (You can see a video about the creation of Cook’s mural on The Harbinger’s website here).

The students have signed a petition stating, “By signing this, I agree that the African sunset mural in Mr. Mohammad’s room (309) made by Sarah Cook should not be painted over.” Students said Wednesday the petition had amassed several hundred signatures.

SM East principal John McKinney, who sponsored and allocated the supplies for the creation of many of the murals created in recent years, said the sunset mural reproduction will be on display in a high-traffic area.

“In the spirit of consistency, we thought it was fair to make a digital reproduction of this mural like all the others,” he said. “I’ve spoken with the artist and explained that the work will be seen by a lot of people — probably a lot more people than saw it in the classroom.”

McKinney and assistant principal Jeff Storey, who led the painting committee, sent the letter below to parents yesterday explaining the painting process.