By Morgan Hughes
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Laramie County School District 1 has identified at least one student believed to be responsible for creating the racist and anti-gay flyers found at McCormick Junior High last week.
LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said Tuesday that because the student is a minor, he could not give any details, other than that the student is being disciplined in line with district policy.
Kaycee Cook, the substitute teacher and McCormick Gay Straight Alliance club co-sponsor who was told via email she was no longer welcome at the school after reporting the flyers, will also likely be reinstated at the school, Brown said.
Last Wednesday, flyers reading “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 were taped to walls and passed out by students, according to students and teachers at the school.
Cook reported the flyers to Wyoming Equality, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, and was informed later that day by Principal Jeff Conine that she had been dismissed as a substitute at the school.
Cook said because Wyoming Equality sponsors GSA programs in the schools, she did not break any policies or subvert the chain of command by reporting the flyers to the organization. In fact, she said, she followed GSA protocol by doing so.
“It was completely appropriate for me to go to Wyoming Equality,” she said.
She said she would be glad to return to McCormick as the GSA co-sponsor, and would hope to receive support from the building’s administrators, as well.
While the district was not immediately involved in investigating the incident, Brown said after he was given more information, they began looking into it. He said he could not comment on Conine’s response to the incident, citing personnel confidentiality.
“We’ll continue to investigate to see how widespread it is,” he said Tuesday. He said he would not be able to comment on next steps until the investigation was complete.
Following the incident, Brown said principals, guidance counselors and school resource officers met with McCormick GSA members and the school’s black students to “check in” and make sure they felt safe.
McCormick students will also receive a lesson tailored around discriminatory bullying when they return from spring break Monday, Brown said. That lesson is part of the district’s Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a nationally recognized anti-bullying education program.
The LCSD1 Board of Trustees also is reviewing district policies in response to the incident.
Board Chairwoman Marguerite Herman said while the “immediate remedy” has been made, in that the student has been identified, the board will review how comprehensive the district’s bullying and harassment policies are.
“And then insist they be enforced,” she said.
The investigation’s findings will be confidential, Herman said, but the board will keep the public informed.
The board is also considering additional curriculum or training that address the issue, Herman said. If the board were to adopt new training, it would supplement Olweus, the district’s active anti-bullying program.
“The main focus of Olweus is, of course, bullying prevention,” LCSD1 Olweus ombudsman Chris Zimney said.
He said all staff are trained in the program, which addresses how to identify bullying and how to respond to it.
School district policy defines bullying as “when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.”
It defines bullying as including: physical or emotional harm, property damage, insulting or demeaning behavior, intimidation, cyber-bullying and social isolation.
In a 2018 study in the Journal of School Psychology, researchers found the Olweus program increases student empathy with bullied peers and decreases their willingness to join in the bullying. The researchers concluded that the program was generally effective, but noted the program did not necessarily address discriminatory behavior to the same degree as other forms of bullying. That means when students were bullied for their race, gender identity or sexual orientation, the program’s efficacy was less clear.
Cook, who in addition to being a substitute and GSA sponsor in LCSD1, is working toward a master’s degree in social work, said she thought the district should employ cultural competency trainings and programs like the Safe Zone Project, which builds LGBTQ awareness and education.
She said that as a substitute, she received no training related to race, gender or sexual orientation.