The New Jersey eighth-graders who made headlines for refusing to take a photo with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington last week "exercised their rights" when they made that decision, says the school district superintendent.
The students from the South Orange Maplewood school district were standing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol last Thursday when Ryan briefly appeared, The Washington Post reported. Ryan went to take a photo with them, but about half of them stepped away. They stood across the street while Ryan posed with the other students.
The apparent dis made national headlines, schools superintendent Dr. John J. Ramos Sr. acknowledged Monday.
He wrote in an email to parents, "Some students chose to participate in the photo on the steps of the Capitol, and others chose not to participate and waited quietly across the street with an administrator until the photo op concluded."
"While we we should all respectfully and appropriately acknowledge those in authority, taking a conscientious position about a photo op is within in our constitutional right," Ramos wrote in the email, first reported by Maplewoodian.com. "We are proud of all of our students, who exercised their rights and chose whether or not to participate for their own individual reasons."
One of the students who stepped away, Matthew Malespina, later told The Washington Post that he disagreed with Ryan's and the GOP's policies on health care and other issues, calling the speaker a "man who puts his party before his country."
Another student, Louisa Maynard-Parisi, told local neighborhood news site The Village Green, "I didn't want to be in [the picture] because he believes in most of what Trump believes in."
"I think that taking the picture represents that you agree with the same political views, and I don't agree with his political views so I chose not to be in it," Wendy Weeks told The Village Green.
Not all those who disagreed with Ryan's policies and political views were necessarily looking to take a stand against him, however.
"I thought it would be interesting to see one of the nation's lawmakers in person even if I strongly disagree with many of his views," said Alex Klint.
More than 200 students were on the field trip, though some were still on buses during the Ryan photo op. Ryan later posted a photo of himself greeting the students on the steps on his Instagram page, with no sign of a snub.