SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - On Thursday, May 25, South Orange Middle School (SOMS) eighth graders were given the option to pose for a photo with Speaker Paul Ryan at the Capital on their class trip to Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Ryan posted a photo of himself with the SOMS students to his Instagram account.

By Sunday, the photo, and the fact that some students choose not to be in it, had "gone viral," with coverage in The Washington Post, New York Post, The Daily Mail, and many other publications.

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On Monday, South Orange Maplewood School District Superintendent John J. Ramos, Sr. addressed the photo in an email to the community (read his letter here).

And on Wednesday, SOMS Principal Lynn Irby shared her thoughts on the matter in an email to the SOMS community with the subject line, "8th grade photo."

Irby's email is as follows:

Dear SOMS Families,

As you know, a group of 8th grade students from South Orange Middle School visited our nation’s capital last week. Among their stops, they traveled to the Capitol for a class photograph. When the opportunity to take a photograph with House Speaker Congressman Paul Ryan was presented, some of our students respectfully declined, while others chose to participate.  We support our students’ right to make either choice.

Contrary to some of the naïve and hurtful comments that have been made on social media about the photo op, our children are well-informed and come from homes in which conversations about our nation are frequent. I challenge the notion that their choices were prodded by parents or teachers. We raise smart, engaged and free-thinking children in our community, and our students are keenly aware of the world in which they live.

Yesterday in 8th grade social studies classes, teachers used this opportunity to discuss the national attention this issue has been given, and the respect we must have for each other. If we want to have a government and a community where are all points of view are valued and listened to, we have to make sure that we create that culture here in our classrooms and in our school. We will not let this issue divide us.

We have also shared some of the social media commentary with the SOPD for their guidance, to ensure the safety of our students and staff.  As an additional precaution, we have been advised to encourage students to refrain from engaging strangers in conversations on social media.

As principal of South Orange Middle School, it gives me a tremendous sense of pride to see our children develop into young women and men who see themselves as stakeholders in the struggle to create a better America.

Respectfully,

Lynn A. Irby

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