The current message on the sign outside Princess Margaret Secondary in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Fat joke on B.C. school’s sign not appropriate, woman says

Surrey mother says weight issues are no laughing matter

As she travelled to work Thursday morning, Becky Finley said she did a double-take as she drove by the sign outside Princess Margaret Secondary in Surrey.

She was upset enough by the posted words to turn around, stop and take a photo of the sign and email it to the Surrey Now-Leader via the “submit a news tip” button on the newspaper’s website, along with a message voicing her displeasure.

The sign reads, “Finally my winter fat is gone! Now I have spring rolls.”

Finley says the message is unacceptable, especially for a sign in front of a school.

“In today’s day and age, with the numbers of women, particularly, struggling with body-image issues resulting in low self-esteem and medical problems like anorexia, where would the average girl’s mind go when arriving at school with a message like this at the door?” she wrote.

Messages on the sign, on 72nd Avenue, are changed every 10 days with the help of students in the school’s BASES program, or Building Academic Social and Employment Skills.

• READ MORE: Creative quotes posted on Surrey school sign turn heads with humour, from December 2017.

Students in the class come up with ideas for the messages, which are then brought to the school principal, Paulo Sarmento, for his final approval.

When told of the school’s sign-message program, Finley said the principal shouldn’t have approved the current one.

“The signs are usually interesting, they’re amusing, they’re funny. I look for them sometimes, and I never saw anything that wasn’t appropriate, until now,” Finley told the Now-Leader in a phone interview.

“I think the students are doing a good job in creating the signs,” she said, “but it’s the principal who vetted this and allowed this to pass. The students may not be aware of these issues, with weight and body image, unless they’re going through it themselves.”

Finley said she intends to call the school, or the school board, in an effort to have the current message removed.

Finley said her daughter is a former student at Princess Margaret.

“I sent it (the photo of the sign) to her and another former student, who are both now in their 30s, to ask them what kind of backlash they would have felt showing up at school with this sign present on the front lawn of the school,” Finley said in her email. “Both were mortified. Note that these two young women are both on the round side in body figure.”

A school sign is the wrong place for such a message, Finley said.

“At a school where you have a large population of young people susceptible to body image, especially girls, it’s not appropriate. It’s an inflammatory message for a school,” she added.

Some time ago, administrators of the school decided to go with humorous, timely and sometimes seasonal messages on the sign, rather than the typical Report Card Day and Band Concert reminders, and got the BASES students involved.

The result has been some creative quotes, such as “I told a chemistry joke. There was no reaction” and “What if the algebra teachers are really pirates and are using us to find X.”

Sarmento was not at the school on Thursday, and therefore not available for comment.

The goal, Sarmento told the Now-Leader in December, is “to make people smile as they drive by our school.… I have people calling the school now commenting on our school sign.

“It’s taken off,” the principal added. “I’ve got people calling me saying, ‘Hey, what’s with your signs? They’re good.’ And the kids love it when they hear this stuff, right? They’re proud.”

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