Kayla Davis, Keilani Cabatu and Alexis Patrick went to the Cache County School Board meeting to show their support for Dr. Jackie Thompson on Dec. 2, 2021.
NORTH LOGAN – Parents, students and community members participated in a silent demonstration outside the Cache County School District building in response to recent events at Sky View High School. The events started with offensive Halloween costumes and a video about racism shown at the end of an assembly about race and diversity sparking an outcry that led to SVHS Principal Mike Monson to issue an apology.
“The outcry should have been more in the beginning phases with those individuals coming to the school as opposed to the education piece,” said Justice Smith, a parent of three students in the district.
During the School Board’s meeting, parents, students and community members shared experiences minority students and students with different sexual identities have in the district.
Katy Shoemaker, a parent of three students in the district and employee of the district, said she sees and hears incidents of racism or discrimination in the halls.
“Every child deserves to feel loved and safe when they come to school and many of our children, they do not,” Shoemaker said. “Because in the hallways and in the classrooms, they have racial slurs thrown at them, homophonic comments and bigotry.”
Shoemaker said she fears that children of color and LGBTQI students were not getting the full support they needed educationally or emotionally in the schools.
Shoemaker said she was told homophobia and bullying could not be address because it is considered sex education to many parents.
“All they could be told was, ‘it’s bullying,’” Shoemaker said.
Community member and ally Alean Hunt also shared the experiences of her six children while in schools in the district.
“The first time my kids were called the ‘N’ word was at Providence Elementary School on the playground,” Hunt said. “My daughters were targeted by a car with a driver from Ridgeline screaming that word at them as they walked from a bus stop. The second time we got a license plate and police reports were filed, nothing was done.”
Hunt said that in order to celebrate Black History Month, her children had to be slaves and slave owners in school.
“This board has a duty to ensure that schools are safe for all students, especially the most vulnerable among them and they are not,” Hunt said. “People are failing at their job and have failed for many years and it is time and past time for accountability.”
CCSD Superintendent Steve Norton said he was grateful for the parents but asked that as the board listened to them, the parents also listen to them.
“I want you to know how grateful I am that you’re here tonight,” Norton said. “I know you have some things you want the board to understand and we hope that we can listen and I hope that you can listen.”
Norton read a statement issued to explain the events and how they were handled by the school’s administration, including the student that dressed up as a Ku Klux Klan member and a student who wore blackface while on stage with other students in costume during a Halloween assembly at the school on Oct. 29.
“School administrators respond to a variety of situations at school requiring their attention including situations involving the topic of race and racism,” Norton said. “As an example, on Halloween, a student showed up to Sky View High dressed in a KKK costume. He was stopped upon entering the school, taken to the office where he removed the costume and was educated as to why such a costume would be highly offensive to the school community.”
He said the student who wore blackface was also referred to the office where administrators worked with the student and parents in discussing why it was offensive to other students.
“These two incidents are indicative of mistakes sometimes made by students as they move towards adulthood,” Norton said. “They provide opportunities for educators to teach and assist students. In neither of these two incidents did administrators see a need to single out these students.”
Smith asked the Board if administrators circled back to the students who were affected by the events that took place on Oct. 29.
“Those kids are the ones that need to be followed up with to make sure that they’re OK because this was offensive to them and it was offensive to me,” Smith said.
Manny Martins, a father of a junior at SVHS, shared how his daughter who he described as a “strong young lady,” sobbed into the phone as she pleaded with him to pick her up after the Halloween assembly.
“When I called Mr. Morris, the assistant principal, he was dismissive,” Martins said. “He laughed at me.”
Norton said the costumes were what prompted the assembly held on Nov. 23 with the intent of promoting mutual respect, understanding and unity.
He said the assembly was received well by students but the video, which was not reviewed by school administration, was deemed inappropriate.
“The school district began to receive phone calls with concerns regarding the assembly,” Norton said. “Upon investigation and through feedback from parents, we determined a video shown at the end of the assembly was the main source of concern.”
Norton said many parents said their student felt uncomfortable with the way the video portrayed relationships between black and white individuals and how police officers were portrayed as a group.
Heather Moller, a mother of students at SVHS, said the video shown at the assembly upset her 17-year-old daughter.
“My daughter came home that day and said the video left her feeling ashamed to be white skinned and that police officers were inherently evil,” said Moller.
Cache Parents United Chair Bob Prenton said he had viewed the video and “found it to be divisive, wholly inappropriate and should not be used.”
Hyrum resident Cree Taylor said the video might have made some students uncomfortable but it is what some students experience.
“People who talk about this video, ‘It’s horrible, I can’t unsee that,’” Taylor said. “People live that stuff and we have to talk about it and we can’t unsee it.”
Taylor said if students were taught why KKK or blackface are wrong or offensive, the incident on Halloween wouldn’t have happened and students wouldn’t see it as a joke.
Ridgeline High School Student Keilani Cabatu said one of the things the district could do to help support minority students would be to create a class where they could feel welcomed and comfortable.
“I love being in a class that makes me feel understood and comfortable. I cannot imagine having a place that makes me feel like where I can belong,” Cabatu said.
She also said the inaction by administration and teachers who witness the incidents affect minority students.
“I am here to talk about the very necessary and important stance on the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion facing our district today,” Cabatu said. “The consequences of racism, microaggressions and actions, including the impact of inaction by administrations and teachers are largely affecting each and every one of us.”
After listening to the parents and students, Norton said he would commit to spending time with the board and community to come up with ideas to help become a better district.
“I’m glad we had this open session and I’m glad we had those people come,” Norton said. “All of us have different life experiences and it’s not a good feeling to know that some of our kids might not be having a good experience in our schools.”
Board Member Chris Corcoran said that he hopes the district will create a constructive partnership and become involved in making the changes necessary.
“This meeting was enormously better for me than I could have anticipated,” Corcoran said. “It was a great experience to have people share their feelings that they have about their own experiences and the experiences of their kids.”