Cheyenne school officials decline to denounce white supremacy

By Morgan Hughes

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE – Laramie County School District 1 officials have declined to issue statements denouncing white supremacy following public outrage over racist and anti-gay flyers found last week at Cheyenne’s McCormick Junior High.

LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown attended a community meeting last week at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church to resolve lingering questions about the incident at McCormick, which he said has kept him up at night.

“Do I think I might lose my job over this? Absolutely,” he said. “I have not slept for about three days.”

Brown was asked three times by different members of the public if he would denounce white supremacist organizations and other bigoted groups. He declined to do so each time.

“To blanket say we’re not going to allow one thing or another is almost ineffective at times, too,” he said the final time he was asked. “I want us to be able to be as inclusive as we can, and sometimes it’s teaching those people when they come in and do those things, too.”

When asked about his reluctance to denounce hate groups, Brown told the Tribune Eagle he would first have to discuss such a statement with the Board of Trustees.

Board Chairwoman Marguerite Herman also declined to issue a statement denouncing white supremacy.

“I think people would like the board to weigh in on an area that is not its authority,” she said.

The issues are unrelated, she said.

She said the board’s mission is to maintain a safe and equitable learning environment for students, and issuing any statement related to ideology would be “taking their eye off the ball.”

The board may issue an affirmative statement, Herman said, “rather than we’re against X,Y,Z.”

Sami Alloy, lead researcher and organizer with the civil rights group Western States Center, was one of the people who asked Brown if he would denounce white supremacist groups. She said it was important for the district to reject white supremacy, particularly because white nationalist organizations recruit from schools.

White nationalist recruitment on and off campuses has skyrocketed in past years. The Anti-Defamation League reports a 182 percent increase of recruitment incidents between 2017 and 2018, with 421 cases reported in 2017 and 1,187 in 2018.

Alloy’s organization published a toolkit for schools on confronting white nationalism. She offered Brown that resource and additional information on how to identify white nationalist recruitment in schools, which Brown accepted.

Other questions asked during the public meeting ranged from what Brown could share about the district’s confidential investigation of the McCormick incident to how bullying prevention training would be administered, and by whom.

NAACP of Cheyenne President Stephen Latham asked how long the investigation would take.

“It’s already been a week, and we haven’t really heard anything that would appease anybody or make us think something is being done,” Latham said.

Brown said district policy allots 30 days to complete an investigation, but he hopes to have things wrapped up by next week.

The district’s Title IV coordinator, John Balow, along with two retired district administrators, will be handling the case, Brown said. They will be looking into whether the flyers found at the school – which 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 – are an isolated incident or are part of a pervasive cultural issue in the district.

Brown deflected questions about specific consequences for both the student or students involved in creating the flyers and the building principal, Jeff Conine, citing confidentiality barriers. At least one student responsible has been identified by the district.

He did say those believed to be responsible were not, to his knowledge, LGBTQ or black students, dismissing some rumors that the students targeted by the flyers had been the ones who created them.

As for discipline of those involved, he first declined to offer specifics, but when pushed by members of the public, he listed a few likely scenarios.

“This would be a more moderate type of level,” he said. “They will see some out-of-school suspension, some training in diversity, some counseling, different things like that.”

Kaycee Cook, the substitute teacher and McCormick Gay-Straight Alliance co-sponsor who was dismissed from the school by Conine after reporting the flyers to Wyoming Equality, still has not been reinstated.

Brown told the Tribune Eagle on Tuesday the district would likely reinstate Cook, but as of Friday afternoon, no further action has been taken to do so.

The Rev. Benjamin Watson, who leads the AME church in Cheyenne, led the meeting, and proposed the community create a committee comprised of students, business owners, church leaders, community organizers and others who could recommend to the LCSD1 Board of Trustees ways the public would like to see the district move forward.