CHEYENNE – A coalition that formed after the spread of racist and homophobic flyers at McCormick Junior High would like to see the school district hire more teachers of color, involve community members in diversity training, and adjust the disciplinary matrix to better protect students from racism and homophobia.
The Wyoming Independent Citizen Coalition shared these ideas with Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown and Diversity Coordinator Patti Paredes Thursday night, along with a number of concerns and questions they had regarding the school district’s response to the incident.
“Us, as a community, we have our views on what needs to be done,” Stephen Latham of the coalition said.
Last March, flyers were passed around the junior high that read, “it’s great to be straight it’s not OK to be gay,” “black lives only matter because if it weren’t for them who would pick our cotton,” and “Join the KKK,” with “the confederate kid club” in parentheses beneath it.
Due to the severity of the incident, the district formulated an action plan to help address the problem, enlisting the help of community groups, including the Wyoming Independent Citizen Coalition.
But as time passed, communication ultimately faded between the school district and the coalition. As the 2019-20 school year went on, school officials altered the action plan, which is a “living document,” and the coalition was left out of the ongoing conversation.
The lack of information was concerning to coalition members, as the district failed to meet multiple expectations set in the original action plan from May.
Laramie County School District 1 was supposed to roll out the SPIRIT program by November, in which students, teachers and administrators would collaborate, identify problems at the school and work toward solutions together. But that deadline passed with no implementation.
Toward the end of November, the coalition met to address the failure to carry out the SPIRIT program. The members weren’t aware of the school’s decision to replace the SPIRIT program with the Networks of Support program or that its implementation was being delayed.
“We know we need the community’s help, and I’ve said that many times,” Brown said. “I know that it’s my fault. I didn’t do a good job communicating, and I apologize for that.”
Part of the SPIRIT program involved bringing community members into schools to assist with training, which members of the coalition said was an important aspect of the program. Brown and Paredes said they would look into incorporating a similar aspect into the Networks of Support program, which is set to roll out during this school year.
Paredes said the district is starting with a top-down approach, getting teachers and facilitators the proper training related to discrimination. Some members of the coalition, however, said they believe a more wholistic approach is necessary.
Barry McCann, a teacher at South High, said his students already see these problems in the community.
“My students are interested in this because they experience it on a daily basis.” McCann said. “The fact that they see it and want to do something about it, I would hate to have us lose that opportunity.”
But even when looking specifically at school district staff, members of the coalition said there’s more to be done. James Peebles, founder of Sankofa American Heritage Inc. and a member of the coalition, said his main concern was increasing the district’s diversity in staffing.
“There are kids who go through this system for 12 years and never have an African American teacher,” Peebles said. “You have kids who go through this system for 12 years who don’t even know who Frederick Douglass is.”
Latham noted that one principal had to personally add lessons on Douglass, who was a national leader in the abolitionist movement, to the school’s curriculum. Not only would having more teachers of color impact students of those races and the material taught, Peebles said it would also impact the way white students view black people.
Peebles said students who have never been in a black-taught classroom or seen black people in similar positions “have a different idea about black people in the community.”
Another improvement the school district is working on that the coalition is heavily interested in is changing the district’s disciplinary matrix. Just as there is no hate crime law in the state, the district doesn’t specifically address incidents related to racism or homophobia. The new matrix, which is currently being developed, will directly address discriminatory actions, as well as focus more on restorative justice, the LCSD1 leaders said.
And as the school district moves forward with these plans, Paredes said she will keep in contact with members of the coalition to make sure all groups involved are on the same page.
Paredes said working with the community “is important because this isn’t just a school district issue. It’s a community issue, and we have to find the right avenues to work with each other.”