CHEYENNE — As protests and vigils over the police killing of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd continue across Wyoming and the country, the state’s largest school district is reaffirming its commitment to inclusive learning.
“To all our African American students, staff and community members: you matter. Black Lives Matter. We see you, and we support you,” read the statement the district released Friday morning.
“Laramie County School District 1 wants to reaffirm our commitment to welcoming all students from any background to our schools, and our commitment to provide students and staff a safe, respectful, civil environment for learning and teaching,” the statement continued.
“As a district, we have a responsibility to make sure we are doing our part to achieve racial justice and to continue fostering empathy and kindness. To that end, we provide counseling for children, professional development for staff, and this resource for parents to talk to their children about race, Parent Toolkit.”
But the district – whose student body is 2.4% black, 20.3% Hispanic and 60% white, while only about 7% of educators are Hispanic – has heard a fair amount of criticism over the past year from some in the community who question its sincerity.
In the spring of 2019, racist and homophobic flyers were found at McCormick Junior High. The district conducted its own investigation to see if the incident was isolated or part of a larger culture. The report is known to have uncovered “some” instances of bullying among McCormick students over time, and a failure by staff to properly investigate. One year later, however, the district is still litigating what information should be released, which has kept the report from public view.
Around the same time the McCormick incident happened, both LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown and LCSD1 Board of Trustees Chairwoman Marguerite Herman refused to denounce white supremacy when asked by a Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporter.
Over the past year, the district has vocalized the steps it’s taking to create a more inclusive school climate. McCormick’s principal stepped down last year, and the new principal, Justin Conroy, is in the process of implementing a program called Networks of Support.
The board also hired its first diversity facilitator, Patti Paredes, last fall, who works with teachers and administrators to foster inclusivity.
“We maintain an environment where students feel safe to learn and participate in their school community,” the district’s statement read, noting that it has revised its discipline definition of “abusive language” to include “intentional communication that directly attacks people on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, disability or disease. ... We strive to incorporate this commitment in everything we do, every day.”
But those changes haven’t quieted community members who say they still see racism and classism in Cheyenne’s schools.
In recent months, the LCSD1 Board of Trustees has also shouldered intense criticism from a group of community advocates who want to convert three of the seven at-large board seats to residence-area seats. Advocates argue it would create a more equitable district by allowing a more diverse pool of competitive candidates and, in theory, a more diverse board. At present, all of the board members are white, and none of them live in south Cheyenne, which is where the city’s highest concentration of Hispanic residents live.
Hundreds of people have signed a petition in favor of passing the proposal.
This was the second year in a row the board declined to advance the motion for a final vote. Those board members who have spoken out against the proposal say residence-area districts would undermine the board’s commitment to serve all children in the district.
At Monday’s school board meeting, numerous advocates called on the board to put the proposal back out for a 45-day public comment period and eventual final vote. That came a few days after hundreds of Cheyenne residents held a vigil at the Capitol in remembrance of George Floyd.
“Marguerite, we saw you at the vigil downtown. We appreciate you coming, but that simply is not enough,” Jalissa Fletcher, an organizer of the vigil, said to Herman during the public comment period of the board’s virtual meeting Monday, as she called on the board to revisit the proposal. “Patience can only last for a while; action is what we want.”
The board will host a virtual community meeting about the proposal from 6-8 p.m. June 18.