The state’s largest K-12 school district has an embarrassing secret. The problem is, rather than owning up to any aspect of it, so far, it remains just that – a secret.
Oh sure, the rumor mill has been churning both inside and outside of the Laramie County School District 1 community for nearly a month now. During that time, we’ve heard a variety of possibilities, including several that, if true, could lead to serious criminal charges against those involved, and possibly others who knew the activity was taking place and did nothing to stop it.
But despite our best efforts to convince them otherwise, district leaders and board members remain tight-lipped.
On the surface, we understand why. Discussing the reasons at least one top-level administrator and one building principal are no longer on the job too openly could lead to a costly defamation suit, especially if those comments aren’t backed up by solid facts. At the same time, though, we’re talking about folks with deep ties to the community and long service to LCSD1. The ongoing silence and refusal to acknowledge that they are either no longer employed by the district or have been placed on administrative leave just breeds more distrust among other staff members and the public.
Cheyenne-area residents know this is a district that can ill afford to sow distrust. After the absolutely atrocious way it handled the discovery of homophobic and racist flyers at McCormick Junior High two-and-a-half years ago, you would think they would have learned their lesson.
For those who weren’t here or weren’t paying attention, a quick recap: On March 27, 2019, offensive flyers were taped to walls and handed to members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Rather than be transparent about the situation and go out of their way to reassure the public it wouldn’t be tolerated, school and district officials downplayed the situation from the minute it was exposed.
“There were only a couple of flyers posted, and they were taken down before school started,” they said, despite multiple statements to the contrary. “There was no pattern of bullying by either students or staff members targeted at the GSA students,” they claimed. And, of course, the GSA adviser’s dismissal had nothing to do with the fact she alerted Wyoming Equality to the situation and spoke with the media about the culture at the school and the now-former principal’s pattern of turning a blind eye to the behavior.
When the controversy refused to die down on its own, the now-former superintendent met with certain community groups and assured them administrators were doing all they could to address the problem. Yet they appointed an internal investigator to study the situation and the school’s culture, then refused to release a copy of his final report with the names of those involved blacked out for more than a year. They only relented after this newspaper and a group of other media organizations won a district court case to gain access to it.
Sure enough, it revealed what people suspected all along – a pattern of behavior by students and staff that never should have been tolerated.
We’re not saying the current situation impacts students as directly or in such a damaging way. (Since all we’ve heard are rumors, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.) But despite a change in the district’s top leader, it does point to a potential repeat of the mistakes made in the wake of the McCormick flyers situation. And who knows how much damage that caused to the reputation of both the district and community as a whole? Several people have related stories of people questioning whether it was safe to move to the Capital City if that was the prevailing attitude.
New LCSD1 Superintendent Margaret Crespo has told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on three separate occasions that she can’t talk about the current situation. No doubt that’s because the district’s lawyers have told her not to say anything. But we think the district should at least put out a brief statement that confirms the current employment status of the administrators in question.
We also believe that statement should include whether a criminal investigation is ongoing, if only to reassure the district’s constituents that whatever has happened isn’t being swept under the rug. And once the investigation is over (assuming one is taking place), district leaders need to be fully transparent about how the situation was allowed to happen and what they’re doing to keep something similar from happening again.
To do otherwise will do nothing but breed further suspicion and distrust – things that could leave negative impacts on the community for years to come.