CHEYENNE – A substitute teacher who co-sponsored the Gay Straight Alliance club at Cheyenne'e McCormick Junior High was fired shortly after news broke that anti-gay and racist flyers had been posted and distributed at the school.
Kaycee Cook said she received an email Wednesday afternoon from Principal Jeff Conine informing her she was terminated from her substitute position. She said she believes Conine took the action after she called members of Wyoming Equality, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, to tell them about the flyers.
Conine said Thursday he was not prepared to make a statement about the email.
The email from Conine to Cook reads, “I am notifying you that due to incidents that have occurred at McCormick you are no longer welcome as a guest or a substitute teacher in our building.”
The email continues by saying if Cook wishes to visit her husband, who is a full-time teacher at the school, she may only do so when students are not present in the classroom.
When Cook arrived at school Wednesday, she was shown a flyer 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. Several teachers and students told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle the flyers had been taped to walls and passed out by some students during the school day.
According to a student at the school, a group of students calling themselves the “confederate kid club” has been bullying GSA students for weeks. Miniature confederate flags started popping up at McCormick about a week ago, according to the student, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
She was a member of McCormick’s Gay Straight Alliance club, but no longer attends meetings.
“I was in GSA until about four weeks ago, until it really started to get bad,” the student said.
She said the bullying is coming from “a group of boys who said they were homophobes and racists.”
“That’s what they call themselves,” she said.
Over the past few weeks, the bullying has escalated from gossip to intimidation to verbal harassment. She said the group of boys makes sure teachers are not around before they start harassing the GSA students.
Laramie County School District 1 officials are now investigating these claims. When the Wyoming Tribune Eagle spoke with Superintendent Boyd Brown on Wednesday, district administrators were not yet involved in investigating the harassment.
But LCSD1 issued a statement Thursday addressing the incident.
“In the midst of an investigation regarding inappropriate flyers that were posted at McCormick Junior High yesterday, (LCSD1) is offering support to our LGBTQ and black students who were reportedly targeted through the incident,” the statement reads.
The statement also says LCSD1 is increasing supervision during the school day when students are not in class, such as during lunch and recess hours. The investigation will seek to determine if Wednesday’s events were isolated, or if they are part of a larger cultural issue.
Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame, who also represents Cheyenne as a Democrat in the Wyoming House of Representatives, said she believes Conine acted with haste.
Burlingame met with LCSD1 officials Thursday to discuss ways to move forward after the incidents at McCormick. She said she was confident she and the district share the same goal of making sure targeted students have adequate support.
“Unfortunately, I don’t really feel the principal, Jeff Conine, shares that goal,” she said. She said Conine’s firing of Cook makes it so they cannot trust each other.
Conine referred all further questions to the statement issued by LCSD1.
Burlingame said despite the shocking events of the past couple of days, the community overall has come out wholly in support of LGBTQ and black students targeted at McCormick.
One tangible demonstration of that came by way of 50 McCormick students who showed up to school Thursday with “love is love” signs and rainbow flags, and then marched peacefully around the school field.
Anyone wishing to further discuss this topic is invited by Wyoming Equality to attend a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Friday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1908 Central Ave.