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Finns Party MP at centre of storm over immigration-themed school project

Finns Party MP Laura Huhtasaari condemned the school project and publicised the names of the school and students involved, prompting a flood of hate speech.

Laura Huhtasaari
Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

Finns Party MP Laura Huhtasaari appears to have ignited a firestorm over a school poster showing opposing views on the issue of migration to Finland.

Huhtasaari, who was most recently in the spotlight over claims of plagiarism of her master’s thesis in education, took to condemn a Tampere school for what she said was stoking hatred against politicians and she placed responsibility for the poster on the school and its principal, not the students themselves.

”Several students have contacted me and said that teachers at the school engage in hate speech and incite and encourage hatred towards democratically-elected politicians. This is happening at primary and upper secondary schools,” Huhtasaari tweeted on Sunday.

The Finns Party MP used a photo of the pupils' poster, which shows the names of the students involved in the project. The poster itself appears to tackle the theme of immigration into Finland and is headlined, ”Finland or Death?”

Under the ”Finland” headline are photos of President Sauli Niinistö and Greens MP Pekka Haavisto, while the images of Huhtasaari and her party leader Jussi Halla-aho appear under the ”Death” text. An image, apparently of a boat full of asylum seekers at sea appears in the middle of the composition.

Huhtasaari’s post sparked heated debate on the social platform, with some users calling for the teacher responsible for the project to be sacked, and others expressing bewilderment over the school’s actions.

Others condemned Huhtasaari, a trained educator, for publishing the first names of the children and that of the school. For their part, the pupils behind the poster have been subjected to criticism by name and in one case a threat of violence.

Huhtasaari published the tweet late Sunday and had not deleted it by Monday afternoon.

”Every competent teacher knows that you do not put identifying information about underage pupils, their work or anything else online without permission,” one Twitter user commented.

School: Photo taken out of context

The principal of the school in question said that the photo of the pupils’ poster was taken out of context. The task assigned to the ninth grade students was to create a poster that expressed a position on an issue. However, the principal said that Huhtasaari should not have published the photo without permission.

”I must admit it was an unpleasant surprise. Students’ names should not be published without permission,” he added.

The school said that it had received certain emails and text messages accusing the principal of brainwashing students, Marxism and Jihadism.

MP: Fault lies with teacher, principal

Meanwhile Huhtasaari said that she had received the photo from a student and added that pupils and parents had contacted her about the issue.

”Students have also reached out before for example during the presidential election and related how teachers have spoken inappropriately about me and the Finns Party during teaching sessions. The teacher’s role is not to instigate fear about a certain democratic party or politician,” Huhtasaari wrote to Yle in an email.

Huhtasaari also addressed criticism about posting an image with pupils’ names on a social platform.

”We are talking about work that was publicly displayed in the school lobby. The first names are there, all of the names should have been cropped. Naturally the teacher and principal are responsible for what kind of work ends up on the school walls. The responsibility lies with the teacher and the principal, not the students,” she added.

Deputy mayor: School followed education curriculum

Tampere deputy mayor and teacher Johanna Loukaskorpi said that politicians should not interfere with teaching content.

”I think it’s most unfortunate that an MP would highlight an individual school and students in a tweet to promote her political ideology. A lawmaker should encourage young people to influence society – not try to forbid it or question [their] methods when they don’t happen to conform to her own views,” Loukaskorpi added.

The deputy mayor said that part of learning language and literature involves studying political action and ways and means to do so.

”I personally think that the poster was quite effective in that it made an impact and is thought-provoking. The school can now discuss how much of an impact a single poster can have or how an image can spread through social media to an incredible extent. Politicians should allow schools space to educate and do their work, not interfere in teaching content. The school curriculum guides school activities,” she concluded.

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