It should go without saying that a person shouldn’t be punished for doing the right thing. And a person who witnesses an injustice, who stands up on behalf of children, certainly shouldn’t have their job threatened.
But that’s exactly what happened last week at McCormick Junior High school in Cheyenne, when a substitute teacher alerted Wyoming Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group, about racist and homophobic flyers that had been put up around the school, with messages including “it’s great to be straight it’s not ok to be gay,” and “black lives only matter because if it weren’t for them who would pick our cotton.”
The flyers were allegedly the work of students who had been targeting Gay Straight Alliance club members for weeks. Students in the group told a reporter at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that they had been the target of a group calling themselves the “confederate kids club,” and one student reported the bullying had gotten so bad that she no longer attended the Gay Straight Alliance club meetings.
Shortly after Kaycee Cook came forward with this information, the principal at the junior high emailed her to inform her that she was “no longer welcome as a guest or a substitute teacher in our building.”
Consider the message this sends, not only to students she was standing up for, but the entire community. It says that whistleblowers are punished. Those who speak out against bullying will not be taken seriously or could even face retaliation. Perhaps even more concerning is that the principal did not seem to be prioritizing the safety and well-being of a group of possibly vulnerable students, who were facing increasingly aggressive harassment from other students in the school. Bullying should never be tolerated, and this was a missed opportunity for the school’s leader to intervene.
And we can’t condemn this enough.
A group of students were made to feel unsafe and unwelcome, and the person who advocated for them was immediately banned from the school premises for doing so. The principal seemed more decisive about banning Cook than about getting to the bottom of these complaints of bullying and harassment happening on his campus.
The district superintendent has said that Cook will likely be reinstated at the school. As she should be. It’s unfortunate her position was at stake in the first place.
Junior high isn’t just a place for learning the fundamentals of math or reading. It’s a crucial time in a child’s life when they begin to form their own identities, when they learn the importance of standing up for what’s right. It’s during these formative years that students are expected to put simple lessons learned in early childhood into action – to celebrate differences, to be kind to others and to express emotion in constructive ways. As children become adults, it’s crucial they learn to understand the larger implications of their actions and the way they treat others.
Cook should be praised for the example she set by standing up for others.
We’re glad to see that the district is taking steps to get to the bottom of this issue. So far, they’ve identified one student involved and have expressed their intentions to investigate the extent of the problem. Additionally, students will receive anti-bullying training when they return from spring break.
These are certainly moves in the right direction, and we applaud the district for taking immediate action to remedy the situation and reinstate Cook at the school.