Kaycee Cook, the substitute teacher who was dismissed from a Cheyenne middle school by the then principal after reporting racist and anti-gay flyers, has been reinstated at McCormick Junior High.
Cook will return to the school effective immediately. She will also return as supervisor of McCormick’s Gay Straight Alliance Club.
“I am happy that the district cleared my name by reinstating me,” she said. “I think it will be important for the kids to see me be reinstated.”
The decision comes a day after Cheyenne’s school district superintendent and board of trustees revealed an action plan for moving forward after the incidents at the junior high.
Racist and anti-gay 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” were found at McCormick on March 27.
Cook, who was both a substitute teacher and the faculty co-sponsor of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance Club, reported the flyers to Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group that oversees GSA programs throughout the state.
After Cook reported the flyers, she received an email from then-principal Jeff Conine informing her she would no longer be welcome as a substitute or club sponsor at the school, and if she wished to visit her husband, a full-time teacher at the school, she would have to do so when no students were present.
When news broke that Cook had been dismissed from the school, school district officials clarified, saying Cook had not been fired from the district, though a decision about her position at McCormick would have to wait until a Title IX investigation into the flyers concluded.
That investigation has since been completed and the district released a statement about its findings on Friday. The investigation found “some bullying, harassment, and confrontation among students has occurred” at McCormick and “some staff at McCormick has not always followed District policy regarding these types of allegations and actions,” according to the statement released by the district.
Superintendent Boyd Brown said the actual report will remain confidential because it contains student and personnel information. Brown has also declined to provide a public copy with student and employee information blacked out. He also said he could not comment on what influenced the decision to reinstate Cook, saying it was a personnel matter.
Now, more than a month after the flyers were found and just under a month since the official investigation launched, Cook is back at the school.
Since Cook’s dismissal from the school, Conine — McCormick’s longtime principal — has also left. The district announced Conine’s departure in an April 26 statement. Brown could not confirm whether Conine resigned or was fired, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.
Since the flyers were found, current and former students have reported instances of unresolved bullying and policy violations going back several years at McCormick, often naming Conine in their recollections of the incidents.
Cheyenne’s Bain Elementary Principal Todd Burns has taken over as McCormick’s principal for the remainder of the school year.
The district is taking new steps to prevent future bullying, according to an action plan released Monday night at a Board of Trustees meeting.
One change that will affect a number of non-curricular clubs across the district is a harder enforcement of district policy and federal laws related to school sponsored activities. Currently, several non-curricular clubs have been meeting during the school day, including McCormick’s GSA club. Brown said that will have to change.
“I think we have some problems across the district where we’re not following that policy,” he said.
Non-curricular clubs will have faculty supervisors, rather than sponsors, so as to make clear the club is not sponsored by the district, Brown said, and those clubs will have to be student-led and meet before or after school.
Other “student-centered” responses from the action plan include increased supervision of students and hiring an additional counselor trained in cultural competency to be stationed at McCormick but available to students district-wide.
The plan also includes more broad responses, like evaluating the district’s current procedure for reporting bullying or harassment, and providing district-wide cultural proficiency trainings.
As part of the district’s efforts to better enforce policy regarding bullying and harassment claims, Brown said they are developing an oversight system that will include periodic reports from building administrators and random audits of schools in the district conducted by district officials, including Brown himself.
Brown said it may be a slow process moving forward, but he hopes to rebuild trust with the community.
“It’s not something that’s going to get taken care of right away,” he said. “The only thing I can do is put the plan in place and show people they can trust us.”
Many of the items listed in the district action plan were suggestions made by community members at the board’s April meeting, including holding a community meeting. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 23 and will be facilitated by the Department of Justice.