Judy and Dennis Shepard, co-founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, issued the following statement today in response to ongoing events at McCormick Junior High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming:
“We have been heartsick for everyone at McCormick and in the Cheyenne community since we first heard that a group of students posted blatantly racist and homophobic flyers in the hallways. We have also felt deep sympathy for the educators who have had to deal with such a needless act of hatred and ignorance. It’s hard enough today for teachers and kids to feel safe at school even without having to worry about discrimination and bias.
“However, the response since then by Laramie County School District #1 personnel has dismayed us. Instead of straightening out this problem, weeks have gone by in which the leaders in the school and the district are pointing fingers at one another, at the kids, at teachers and at community members. This is only making the anxiety and frustration of African American, LGBTQ, and allied students worse. Which we know can lead to great harm. We need to do better.
“We’ve been so proud of the students and teachers who stepped up and let the district and the public know what is going on. And we are grateful the Superintendent has clarified that, contrary to what students were told when they were pulled from class last week, they are allowed to express themselves if they wish with a rainbow pin or flag or hair clip or patch. That’s a start toward making this situation right. We’re sad that it was ever in any question.
“There’s a lot more to be done to heal this division and we sorely hope the LCSD1 leadership makes it a top priority before the school year runs out and the students all go home. We’ve asked the Matthew Shepard Foundation team to offer recommendations and any assistance we or our colleagues in the civil rights movement can provide the students, educators and community. We are also aware of valuable input already made or still forthcoming from many other allied organizations. We want to thank Wyoming Equality, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign for their efforts.
“We have traveled all over the country and the world on a shoestring budget for 20 years to make sure people know that Wyoming people are good people who stand up to hatred. We never wanted to have to do that, but here we are. To the young Wyomingites who have been caught in the middle of this disturbing situation, we send our love and support, and our vow to be a part of the solution.”
Recommendations from the Matthew Shepard Foundation
- The school district should sincerely and publicly apologize to African American, LGBTQ and Allied students for the inconsistent and slow response to the flyers, for initially stalling before publicly condemning white supremacy, and for McCormick staff erroneously telling the Gay Straight Alliance students they cannot wear and rainbow symbols or other “LGBTQ paraphernalia.”
- The district should immediately make vigorous efforts to connect any students affected by these events with appropriate resources such as counseling, parent-teacher conferences or other community-based support systems.
- LCSD1 should appoint an independent investigator or counsel from outside the district to thoroughly review the chain of events so as to inform the School Board of the true circumstances for the purpose of taking appropriate remedial action.
- The school and the district should adopt policies that emphasize to all its personnel that no adverse employment consequences will result from informing officials of actions which expose students or other personnel to incidents of bias or discrimination based on those individuals’ identities.
- LCSD1 should evaluate and implement best practices in responding quickly to incidents of hatred in the school environment in the future.
- The School Board should provide a comprehensive account of these incidents and subsequent responses to the public once the investigation(s) and subsequent actions are complete, to the full extent allowed by law.
- The voters and taxpayers of LCSD1 should carefully review and consider the district’s actions and hold board members accountable for positive results.