Cheyenne school trustees pass anti-discrimination resolution

CHEYENNE — Divisions were drawn among Laramie County School District 1 trustees as they debated a response to reports of racism, at the board meeting Monday night.

Following several hours of discussion on process and the purpose of an official statement from the board, a resolution designed to condemn discrimination and harassment was passed.

The action was prompted by military leadership at F.E. Warren Air Force Base asking for LCSD1 to properly address the harassment and bullying of students of color. Incidents experienced by military members’ children at multiple schools were brought to the attention of Superintendent Margaret Crespo more than a month ago, after which a call to action for faculty and students to mitigate negative behaviors was announced.

However, base commander Col. Catherine Barrington was joined by community leaders in saying it is not enough.

“Our minority children have endured fights, have been called a word we dare not repeat, have been told to go back to a foreign country even though their entire family was born in the U.S. and have been told your own people want you dead,” Barrington testified during public comments. “This an ugliness that is too much to bear and can no longer be tolerated.”

Because of the continued bullying and a lack of safety, she said two of the families have requested early transfers from the base.

“This behavior is unacceptable,” Barrington continued. “And I am willing to work with the school board to make the changes that help protect minorities in our schools. It is my duty. I will not stop until we have clear solutions in place.”

Mayor Patrick Collins followed Barrington in his address to the school board and described the difficult conversations he had with the families about their experiences with hateful conduct directed toward them. He said it was hard to look in the eyes of a father whose son was harassed based on his skin color, and he could see the pain in the father’s eyes.

Although Collins acknowledged LCSD1 administrators, military officials, Cheyenne business leaders and school board members had met previously, he said a strong statement needed to be made condemning racist actions.

“It is all of our responsibility to speak up and condemn these behaviors, and work to protect those being harrassed,” he told trustees. “Superintendent Crespo has been great at understanding and leading, but it’s also important for the elected leaders of the school district to speak up and publicly lead.”

The way the mayor suggested this was done was by drafting a resolution, which is what led to conflict not only between trustees, but also with community members.

While all trustees said they supported condemning violence and bullying in the district, there were complaints about the process.

Since the resolution meant to address racism was not put on the agenda until the day of the meeting, some said there was not an adequate amount of time for members of the board and the public to be informed. The draft of the document was also kept private, meaning the content of the resolution was unknown before it was presented at the meeting.

The timing of the resolution was not the only issue. Board members debated the intention, language and appropriateness of the statement until 10:30 p.m. on Monday.

One of the first points made during the drafting discussion was by trustee Tim Boiln. He said he did not want the resolution to be associated with Cheyenne’s new anti-harassment ordinance, which is meant to address racism in the community. He said the school board was not taking action because the Cheyenne City Council did first, and the school district had made positive strides in inclusivity long beforehand. Others were uncomfortable with the draft because it mirrored the wording of the city ordinance, and not specifically LCSD1 policy.

Similar opinions were held by stakeholders who testified. However, some were against the city ordinance altogether.

“Just because something is an ordinance or a law doesn’t mean that it’s right,” local parent Joshua Fitch said. “There’s been many laws and ordinances in this country that have been inappropriate and wrong, so the City Council made a mistake.”

In regards to issues with wording of the proposed statement, Trustee Christy Klaassen said she wanted to make sure the intent of the resolution was clear so there was freedom to express different ideas. She made sure the words maliciously and intentionally were used only in describing behavior, because students shouldn’t fear debate.

Klaassen said there were concerns that if one person shared a perspective about their values that was different from another person, they might be expelled from a school.

“We’re not talking about the use of the n-word or something like that,” she clarified. “We’re talking about maybe a religious point of view.”

Despite disagreements such as these between trustees for more than two and a half hours, the board did come to a final decision. Members passed the resolution unanimously. The one-page statement is not a change to policy and does not hold the weight of a rule, but rather it is an expression of the board’s view on issues with discrimination and harassment.

“Be it resolved that LCSD1 and the Board of Trustees, in joining with the government, civic and religious groups, civil rights organizations, the business community and others in Cheyenne, reaffirm their commitment to enforce policies strictly prohibiting any activity or speech on district property or at a district sponsored event that maliciously intimidates or harrasses any other person based on the person’s race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sex or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law,” it reads in part.

Prohibited behavior includes assault and battery; damage, trespass upon or theft of any personal property; threat by word or act; and any other action prohibited in LCSD1 policy.