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McCormick Junior High

McCormick Junior High is seen in this undated photo. Experts say Laramie County School District 1 officials have no legal basis for denying public access to McCormick Junior High's report on bullying.

Recent events at Cheyenne’s McCormick Junior High have brought several issues to light.

First, they’ve illustrated the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing bullying on the school campus.

In March, a substitute teacher and the sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club alerted the media and an LGBTQ advocacy group that some students on campus were hanging homophobic and racist flyers, part of a larger issue of bullying targeted at the LGBTQ students at the school. The students said the harassment and bullying had been ongoing for some time and was escalating in recent weeks.

Shortly after the teacher came forward with this information, the principal informed her she was no longer welcome on the school campus. We condemned this decision to attack a whistleblower, and we were glad to see that the school walked back its original action and reinstated the teacher.

But this highlights another pressing concern at the school.

In the wake of these events, district officials have repeatedly fumbled in handling the situation.

After temporarily banning the teacher who shined a light on this issue, we hoped the school and the district would be more cautious and thoughtful going forward. However, that hasn’t always been the case.

When the community learned about the flyers spouting racist and homophobic slurs, several members of the public demanded that district leaders take a firm stance in opposing the hateful messages. LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown was asked by three different members of the public during a community meeting to denounce white supremacy. And all three times, he declined, citing the need for school board approval, according to reporting from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Board of Trustees Chair Marguerite Herman also declined to issue a statement denouncing white supremacy.

More than a week later, Brown did read a statement clarifying that the school district opposed white supremacy and other hate-mongering ideologies. But we are concerned that the delay sent the wrong message to students, who needed to hear, without hesitation or delay, that racist ideologies are wrong.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last concerning incident in the response to the racist and homophobic flyers. Last week, McCormick’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, those very students being bullied in the first place, were told that they could not wear LGBTQ-related apparel on school grounds. In fact, the students were told they weren’t even allowed to wear rainbow colors to school.

District officials did this in response to a planned demonstration, in which students were planning to display Confederate flags or rainbow flags. In an effort to avoid distractions, they felt the best move was to ban all flags district-wide.

Their motive may have been well-intentioned — by banning all flags that would have incited other students, they sought to diffuse a quickly escalating situation. However, by banning LGBTQ flags and apparel in conjunction with Confederate flags, officials falsely equivocated the two.

The students intending to fly LGBTQ flags were doing so in an effort to stand up against hate and bigotry. Their message was one of inclusiveness and equality. On the other side, those students carrying Confederate flags were only propagating hate and showing support for a violent insurrection against the American government in support of slavery.

They are not the same and should not be treated as such. And doing so is both offensive and flies in the face of historical truth.

We were heartened to see the district change course and allow students to continue wearing LGBTQ apparel. But again, we have to wonder, why was banning it ever a consideration?

Most recently, Gillette lawmaker Scott Clem weighed in the issue and laid blame on the LGBTQ advocacy group, Wyoming Equality. Clem accused the group of exploiting children to further their agenda.

But it’s worth noting that Wyoming Equality says it has been trying to engage with McCormick’s principal for several years with no results. Ultimately, using media and a public platform was the last resort.

And by accusing the advocacy group of exploiting these students, Clem is insulting the students’ intelligence by implying they aren’t capable of asking and advocating for change because they are children.

Wyoming Equality is doing what it exists to do — advocate on behalf of a group of people who would otherwise not have a platform.

Last fall marked the 20th anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student. During the coverage of the anniversary, some in the community were quick to complain that Matthew Shepard’s story belongs in the past — that continuing to talk about how the LGBTQ community is treated in Wyoming is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, it’s these instances that underscore how much more we have to learn from the story of Matthew Shepard. Wyoming still has a ways to go, and the first step in making change is acknowledging that problems persist.

Editor’s note: This editorial was written before an announcement late Friday that Jeff Conine was no longer principal at McCormick Junior High School.

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