Eureka High School | Outpost file photo: Andrew Goff


Four Eureka High clubs representing BIPOC students have been planning murals that represent who they are, but last month their efforts were interrupted when the Eureka City Schools Board of Education voted to no longer allow murals. Now, students and community members are asking the board to reconsider. 

Groundwork to produce culturally relevant murals for Eureka High’s campus began two years ago, when Naomi Doherty received a $2,500 grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation for her idea: the Eureka High School Mural Project. 

As one of Humboldt’s most ethnically diverse schools, Eureka High was an obvious choice for the project. “Embracing our diversity as a strength” is a part of the district’s mission statement. 

“I think this would be something that [the district] would welcome – to showcase that diversity, not just through words, or through a motto, but through art, where you can see it, and you can see the actual students that are being represented,” Doherty told the Outpost

With the grant, Doherty began working with four Eureka High clubs – Black Student Union, Native American Club, Asian and Pacific Islander Club and Latinx Club – to plan a mural for each. Guest speakers visited the clubs to generate inspiration for mural designs with students.  

“The students are creating these images, and they’re picking these quotes, and they’re creating this symbolism – it’s not somebody else coming in and doing it for them – so they really are self-representational artworks. I think that’s important,” Doherty said. “If there is that artwork…students coming into this school will see that diversity, and they will feel more welcomed by it and want to be a part of it. And people of color who see those murals will look and say, ‘oh, there is a place for me here, I am welcome.’”

Amaya Watson, Black Student Union president and student board representative, took a leading role in the development of the murals, Doherty said. 

The murals evolved into a community-wide effort. 

In April, Sharrone Blanck, president of the Eureka NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), launched a GoFundMe campaign to support the project. Nearly 100 donors contributed, raising more than $5,000 in funds to pay local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) artists to paint the murals. 

More recently, the effort became a DreamMaker Project of the Ink People. It’s been renamed A.R.C. (Art. Representation. Culture.), with a mission to “provide the under-represented communities of Humboldt County in the public school system a platform to connect to their cultural ties through artistic self expression.”


Prior to this school year, murals painted on Eureka City Schools properties underwent no formal approval procedure. In September, Doherty was asked to develop official mural procedures for ECS, a guidance that would be followed for all future murals in the district. Doherty agreed. 

The guidelines were edited by Eureka High principal Jennifer Johnson and former ECS assistant superintendent of educational services Michael Davies-Hughes, Doherty said, with help from the Inter Club Council, a Eureka High group of every student club president. They outlined an approval protocol through the Inter Club Council and included restrictions on political, obscene, and drug- or gang-related references. Mural designs shouldn’t discriminate and should align with the missions of the clubs that create them, the guidelines said. 

It’s unclear why the district wanted to develop mural guidelines now; Superintendent Fred Van Vleck didn’t respond to a question regarding the cause for guidelines. 

Davies-Hughes brought the mural criteria to the ECS Board of Education for approval at a meeting on October 28. According to minutes from the meeting, Van Vleck “strongly conveyed the importance of capturing the correct language in the adopted criteria, as this will be the framework for future murals in the District.” 

The mural procedures cracked open a big debate about art. The criteria needed more specific guidelines regarding mural size, board members said, and it should specify appropriate locations for murals on ECS campuses. But the board members also expressed concerns about fairness. Not every student is part of a club, and so not every student is represented in the Inter Club Council, someone pointed out. “Sometimes what a club sees in the mural may be different than what others see,” the meeting minutes say. “Concerns are noted that micromanaging murals may limit the voices of students.”

In an emailed statement to the Outpost, Van Vleck said the board deliberated for more than an hour at the October meeting. At some point in the discussion, Van Vleck voiced an alternative: the district could simply no longer allow murals, “as there will be controversy either way.” 

Board member Mario Fernandez moved to approve the draft criteria that were on the agenda, but his motion failed due to lack of second. The board asked staff to include guidelines regarding mural size, location, and limitation to one mural per club. 

The guidelines were revised as requested and brought back to the board a month later, on November 18. Davies-Hughes had left the district to become Humboldt County superintendent of schools, and so the item was presented by Superintendent Van Vleck.

From the (not yet official) meeting minutes: “Van Vleck notes how difficult it is to come up with guidelines on what is acceptable on a mural. He believes this belongs at the Board’s level, not at the staff level. The Board has found it very difficult to put into a policy language to guide what is controversial vs not controversial, as such, it is staff’s recommendation the District not allow murals.”

During public comment on the item, Doherty was the only speaker. She told the board about the students’ ongoing efforts to plan murals that would represent who they are and what they stand for. She told them about the grant funding from Humboldt Area Foundation, about the money raised by Eureka NAACP, and about the project’s evolution to becoming a DreamMaker Project of the Ink People. “[I] tried to show them how it evolved into something bigger,” Doherty said. 

“Van Vleck clarified with Doherty the discussion is about a policy for murals in general, not a decision on one mural,” the meeting minutes say. 

This time, Doherty said, there was very little discussion.

Two board members – student representative Watson and trustee Fernandez – pushed back at the suggested ban on new murals. Not allowing murals would be a poor decision, and there is more to murals than controversy, Watson said. Trustee Fernandez voiced concerns about limiting student voices. 

A motion by Trustee Mike Duncan to not allow new murals in Eureka City Schools was seconded by Trustee Fran Taplin. The motion passed with a third “aye” from Lisa Ollivier. Trustee Susan Johnson was absent. 

Watson was frustrated, because she felt like the board’s questions and concerns raised at the October meeting were addressed in the revised mural procedures. 

We emailed Van Vleck several questions, including what made developing the parameters challenging and what led him to recommend not to allow future murals. On behalf of the ECS school board and district, Van Vleck sent along this response:

“Developing a criteria for murals on campuses in Eureka City Schools has proven to be quite challenging. The item was properly agendized and brought [to] the Board in two meetings, October 28th and November 18th. The Board struggled to come to a consensus on what the criteria should be after nearly an hour of discussion on October 28th and more on November 18th. At the conclusion of the discussion on October 28th, the Board asked that I come back with revisions to the mural criteria, and you can see those revisions in a redline on the November 18th agenda backup materials. The Board continued to struggle to come to a consensus, as such, I recommended to the Board, the best path may be to have no new murals at all. Ultimately, this was the action taken.”

Blanck, who wasn’t at the meetings, was surprised to hear about the vote. “That did not seem how things ended in October. October was like: get information, we’re going to talk about it more in November. And then, not only was it not a discussion, but it seemed to be a very hasty vote,” Blanck said. 

“To shut everything down with no discussion, after all this time, and all this effort on the parts of the students, is very dismissive and disrespectful to what the students have been working to create.”


Students have not let the vote go without a response. Every member in the Black Student Union sent an identical letter to board members, which Watson shared with the Outpost

“The 3 to 2 vote applied to the mural project was disheartening, upsetting, and showed a lot of the board members’ true prerogatives and politics. This mural is a symbol of strength, support, and unity within our community,” the letter reads. 

“As no mural has ever gone through this ‘approval’ process before, it causes the students, staff, and parents of Eureka High to question the motivations behind the opposition to our mural, leading us to believe there are racial and political issues behind them. This begs the question: Why now? Why has there never been an approval process for a mural, let alone one this obstructive, until a person of color wanted to create a mural on a campus that would represent marginalized groups?” 

Later, the letter claims Watson, as a student board representative, has been met with dismissiveness and disrespect by other board members. The letter specifically names Trustee Duncan, who allegedly sent Watson an email asking how to make the mural inclusive “without making others feel bad or judged.” 

“Since the only student population not depicted in this mural is white students, this rhetoric from M. Duncan leads me to believe that he does not support the mural based on the fact there is no representation of white students. What representation do they lack?” 

The letter points out that 47% of the ECS student population and the majority of the school board is white, and that previous on-campus murals are portrayed by white people, including the Logger mascot. 

“The murals around other schools are plentiful – they add beauty and allow school community members to share their values and culture. We feel that this mural will create an impact, and though it may create controversy, we do not seek tension. We seek representation, understanding, and compassion; Compassion for what people of color have gone through, and the many injustices permeate within our nation and our community.” 

The letter concludes urging the board to reconsider.

“Please reintroduce the mural (guidelines) and understand there is no intention of hate, anger, or disobedience. We want inclusion. Banning murals on all district campuses is an inappropriate and disproportionate response to the discomfort of confronting the racism, and a lack of representation for students of color on your campuses.”


Faculty and community members are equally alarmed by Eureka City Schools’ no-new-murals policy. Like students, concerned staff and community members are asking the board the same request: reconsider the item on a future agenda. That’s only possible if one of the trustees who voted to not allow future murals – Duncan, Taplin or Ollivier – asks to revisit the item, or if trustee Johnson, who was absent from the November meeting, makes the same request. 

Two things are concerning about the vote, Blanck wagered. First: the policy-adoption procedure was blunt and offered little opportunity for students to participate in the discussion, she said, which was particularly upsetting considering students’ cooperation with the murals so far. 

“The other piece of it has to do with representation within the space,” Blanck said, noting that Eureka High School’s student population is one of the most ethnically diverse in the county, while its staff and administration mostly identify as white. 

​​“The material that is taught in the school does not necessarily fully reflect the richness of the diverse community that is here. Having artwork that reflects one’s own culture within that space – especially in a space as I just described – is very important for self esteem, community building and having a sense of power and agency.”

One teacher, who asked not to be named, told the Outpost that the district has lost sight of former proclamations, including its diversity-embracing mission statement and a June 2020 statement that then-Board President Susan Johnson issued following the murder of George Floyd. 

“We support our students and students across the nation in this fight against injustice and the fight for true equity. We support our students who are expressing themselves to make our community and county a better place. We will continue to support this movement by listening and enacting better District policies and programs to meet the needs of all students,” Johnson said at the time. 

In a letter to three board members shared with the Outpost, that unnamed teacher said the November vote was a “hurtful blow” to the district’s Black students, Indigenous students and students of color. 

“This is a very unique moment in our nation’s history and the students of Eureka High School are leading the way towards a more inclusive and just future. As leaders of this district, it is imperative that you celebrate and facilitate our students’ empowerment, and the November 18th vote was exactly the opposite,” the letter said, which was endorsed by 21 Eureka High club advisors.

The letter points out Eureka High’s diversity – 2% African American, 5% American Indian, 12% Asian, 22% Hispanic/Latino, 1% Pacific Islander, 9% Multiethnic – meaning 51% of the student population is composed of people of color. 

“What message are you sending to over half of our student body when you deny their artistic expression and cultural empowerment?” the letter says. 

“I am heartsick at this lost opportunity to inspire EHS students, with incredible works of art on our campus, a project that is entirely student and community driven. It would be a tremendous loss to our school environment to not display these inclusive, empowering and healing murals at ECS.” 

The letter argues that the board’s concerns about mural guidelines are easy to resolve, and that the most important part of the guidelines is providing students the opportunity to represent themselves through artistic expression.

“I implore you to reconsider the issue by requesting it to be on the next agenda.” 

Doherty is asking for the same thing. 

“That’s the number one goal, is to get it back on the agenda and show the board members how important it is to not just students who they represent, but also the community, who they also are supposed to represent,” she said, adding that she thinks it’s possible to find solutions to the board’s concerns. 

“That’s the most important thing,” Doherty said. “We don’t want to wait.” 

In posts to the Eureka NAACP Facebook page, Blanck encouraged community members to contact ECS trustees and request that the board reopen the discussion. 

“This is a really important opportunity for the high school and the district to show support for their students of color in expressing themselves and creating artwork that’s important to them,” Blanck said. “I think it’s a real opportunity.” 


Students, faculty and community members are planning to speak at the Eureka City Schools Board of Education meeting tonight – Dec. 9 – to ask trustees to reconsider allowing murals. If folks are successful in persuading the board, the discussion won’t happen tonight – murals aren’t on the agenda – but a board member who voted “no” on murals, or Trustee Susan Johnson, who was absent for the November vote, might request to revisit the topic at a future meeting. 

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at 2100 J Street, the Eureka City Schools District Office, in room 116. (Zooming in is no longer an option for ECS board meetings.) See the agenda here