A racially motivated incident at Helper Junior High in mid-November is causing Carbon School District to reexamine its policies on bullying, racial discrimination and hate speech.
This was announced at a meeting held at the district office with community law enforcement, administrators, some school board members and others on Tuesday.
The incident, in which some graffiti pertaining the hate speech was written on a classroom door and wall, has set in motion an investigation and a serious look at what really underlies the scribblings that appeared there.
The first notice of the graffiti was noticed on Nov. 16. The district administration was immediately informed, and they contacted the Utah State Board of Education about the situation, as is required by state law. At the same time, the school district contacted Helper Police Chief Trent Anderson and School Resource Officer Robb Radley and they began to look into the matter.
On Nov. 17 another piece of graffiti appeared. It was related to the first, although investigators determined they were not done by the same person.
The first appeared to be written, apparently by an adult; the second looked to be a juvenile. Upon investigation the student who produced the second piece was found, suspended from school for 10 days and then transferred to Mont Harmon Junior High.
But the first example is still under scrutiny.
"Unfortunately this kind of thing is out there and it's ugly," said Anderson on Tuesday at the meeting. He said this kind of thing is not common in the area but two other incidents where someone kept leaving threatening letters on a Middle Eastern man's doorstep and graffiti sprayed on a gay couple's property have happened in the last couple of years.
Anderson's department is offering a $200 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the person who scrawled the first graffiti on the school wall.
Tuesday, Carbon School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen also offered another $200 to add to that reward.
Because of the report to the state, the Office of Equity at the state board is now involved in the situation as well. The board has asked the district to look into its policies, how they are communicated to the public and how the district follows those policies.
"We will be evaluating everything about our bullying and hazing policies," said Carlsen. "The state has sent us a model policy and we will be comparing our policy with it. The last time we updated ours was 2009, so we believe we will be making some changes."
Policies are one thing, but getting people to understand and use them is another. What goes unreported (unlike the Helper incident) could likely be more important that what is turned in. The district is looking for ways to be sure they know what is going on at the ground level with students.
The unknown of what is out there in terms of groups or individuals harboring hate or discontent is a big factor for the district.
"We need to do four things," said Judy Mainord, the secondary supervisor for the district and the Title VI officer for the district. "To recognize the gaps in our understanding of what is out there, how to fix those gaps, to do an assessment survey and then to do training and education with students and parents on these issues."
At the meeting one of the biggest aspects of bullying and other types of behavior is now concern about social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
"The social media is a huge issue," said Ken Labrum, the district's security manager. "Despite our policies of no cell phones at school, stuff goes on all day. And when students put things on those sites after school, and it is about people at school, it spills over into the school."
Price Police Chief Kevin Drolc and Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova, who were also at the meeting, agreed with Labrum. They both get complaints about postings on social media.
"We get complaints about what happens on Facebook sometimes," he said. "But generally, they are not of a criminal nature."
Robert Cox, now an administrator at the district level, but previously the principal at Carbon High said that people often don't understand that what is done outside of school can affect the school a great deal.
"When I was principal of the school often what happened in Smith's parking lot on Main Street on a Friday night would spill over into school on Monday," he stated. "What is done on the outside with social media is the same thing."
The group came up with some goals that the district should begin to work on to attack problems that related to the issues of race, bullying and hazing. Most of those goals related to communication and education for all involved.
Because of the weather over the mountain on Tuesday, state representatives were unable to attend the meeting, but will be in the area in January to hold a second meeting.