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Canyons' school racism report vague about 'other' incidents

Published April 8, 2011 4:04 pm

Education • Action plan includes forming a "civility commission."
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Canyons School District has wrapped up an investigation into an alleged racial incident at Alta High School and reportedly found other incidents, but won't divulge any details about them.

"Students allegedly responsible for these racial incidents have been identified, and the incidents have been referred to the Sandy Police Department for investigation," the report said.

Canyons Superintendent David Doty said the district could not describe the other incidents without violating privacy laws. It would be inappropriate to comment or name the individuals involved, he said.

But the district did share six steps it will take to "foster a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment" at all its schools, from providing more education about racial issues to forming a "civility commission."

The precipitating incident, which became public when a multi-racial Alta student wrote about it on his blog, involved a white student who covered his head with a pillow case that resembled a Ku Klux Klan hood during a school assembly on March 17. Soon after, at least two other Alta students circulated a text message that showed a Klansman in front of a burning cross. All three students were cited by Sandy police and referred to juvenile court. The student who wore the pillow case also was suspended for seven days.

That student's mother, who previously defended her son's actions as a misunderstood joke, declined to comment on the district's action plan.

Doty said a district-wide approach to the issue is important because such incidents are not limited to Alta and the broader Sandy community. While most students and city residents are kind, the actions of a few created the need for reflection throughout the district.

"In order to get at those few, everyone needs to own it," Doty said. "Everyone needs to be responsible for it and everyone needs to be a contributor."

In addition to the action plan, the district will evaluate its social studies curriculum to examine how civil rights issues are taught.

The district relied heavily on the NAACP to craft the plan.

"It's a first step, and it's a good step," said Salt Lake City branch president Jeanetta Williams, who believes it will help reach students at an early age.

Bart Barker, whose son is black and a sophomore at Alta, said the controversy offers a learning opportunity. While his son hasn't reported any instances of racism, he has heard racist jokes, Barker said. The attitude that race doesn't matter, that everyone is the same, is easy to adopt — if you aren't a minority who deals with such issues every day, he said. Alta's student body is 92 percent white, according to fall enrollment counts.

"They need to understand that there are boundaries," Barker said. "They have to be respected."

Some Alta parents and students have accused the district of overreacting to teenage pranks, but Doty believes a strong stance against racist and hateful behavior is needed.

"I cannot be more strong in my condemnation of these despicable actions of a few," Doty said. "Nobody should be treated that way." —

The action plan

Canyons School District has outlined several steps designed to "foster a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment." Highlights:

Collaborate with the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct community hate crimes training.

Provide education and training in all schools on issues related to diversity and nondiscrimination.

Create a "civility commission" composed of parents, students, employees, and community members.

Review all Safe Schools and nondiscrimination policies to ensure they are clear, and involve the public on proposed changes.




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