For seniors at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, their parking space at school traditionally has been as much about art as it has been a place to keep their car.
Bright designs left by recent grads in the Class of 2019 still adorn the TJ High School spaces. Everything, from a spot painted pink with big, white pineapples to a bar of musical notes with the words “love can tell a million stories,” tells a unique story. One spot shows an intricately painted orange iguana against a light blue background, while another is light gray with the words “throw kindness around like confetti” scrawled across in black and light blue.
For the past two years, seniors have paid $50, on top of the cost of a parking permit, to paint their parking spot. They submit an application and a design, which must be approved by the counselor’s office.
But for the Class of 2020, that self-expression may be erased by Frederick County Public Schools.
Quinten Norberg is a rising senior at TJ High and has been looking forward to painting his spot for his last year of high school. Before beginning his summer vacation, he submitted his application and $50 check. Two weeks later, he was called into the counselor’s office and told that the activity had been canceled and he would be reimbursed for the fee he paid.
When he asked why, Quinten was told the decision came from Frederick County Public Schools headquarters.
FCPS Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo, however, said a final decision has not yet been made. Lebo said TJ High submitted a request for the activity in mid- to late June and that it is still under review.
“We still have a lot of concerns that haven’t been answered yet,” Lebo said. “About types of paint that can be used, who’s going to supervise, how would they handle an environmental spill, cleanup.”
When asked why the activity had been allowed at TJ High for the past two years, Lebo said a request hadn’t been submitted. Lebo told a reporter that the school district had not been previously aware that students were painting their spots. Lebo explained that in the past, an activity such as this would not have required approval, but with new regulations regarding modifications to facilities and grounds, a request this year was required.
Middletown High School also had a similar program last year.
“The senior parking spot painting activity was hugely popular with the seniors in August 2018,” Lee Jeffrey, former principal of Middletown High, said in an email. “Not only did they enjoy expressing their creativity, the students enjoyed a day of painting with classmates and family members.”
One concern the school district has is potential damage to asphalt.
Seve Scott, a paving production manager with Pleasants Paving of Frederick, has provided paving work for FCPS in the past. He says that when paint is put down on asphalt, it can soak into the pavement and is difficult to get out.
Normally, each incoming senior has painted black over the previous spots before painting their own design, but according to Scott, this buildup of paint can cause problems down the road. The various layers of paint prevent the lot from being a flat surface, which could eventually lead to puddles. But this could take years, Scott said. It would be at least five coats of paint before effects start showing.
“My recommendation is they use chalk,” Scott said.
When the idea of chalk was suggested to Quinten, he chuckled.
“I would be out here every weekend redoing my design,” Quinten said.
Sherry Norberg, Quinten’s mother, says painting the spots allows seniors to show off their personality and school spirit.
“When you see these kids’ spaces ... they’re amazing,” Norberg said.
Quinten was planning to highlight his favorite things in his design. The rising senior is a culinary student at the Frederick County Career and Technology Center and was going to paint rolling pins along with the TJ Patriot mascot, and the logo of the New York Giants, his favorite pro football team.
Beth Bowman Case, a parent of an Oakdale High School student, said that between 30 and 40 seniors had been interested in the activity last year. The school designated a day toward the end of the summer to allow seniors to come and paint, but at the last minute, it had to be canceled due to bad weather.
The Oakdale community wanted to try again this year but then heard about what was happening at TJ. Case decided to start a petition online titled “Let’s Get Paint Your Parking Spot at All FCPS High Schools Approved.” Case said she hoped the petition would garner support from across the county.
As of Wednesday, almost 300 people had signed Case’s petition. Lebo said he was not aware the petition existed.
Both Case and Norberg hope the schools and administration can reach a compromise, perhaps allowing the seniors to paint their spots with a different type of paint that wouldn’t be as damaging.
“It’s a great way to show school spirit and raise money for things,” Case said. “It’s good for the community and school.”
Norberg put it more bluntly.
“Let them enjoy their senior year, for God’s sake,” she said.
“You know we don’t get a lot. Give us what we can get,” Quinten said. “These are the best four years of your life. ... Let us enjoy them while they’re here.”
Lebo says FCPS is working with outside contractors to get different perspectives and input, on which a final decision will be based and given to schools by the end of July.