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By Chrissy Suttles
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Investigation finds bullying, policy violations at McCormick Junior High

CHEYENNE – McCormick Junior High administrators didn’t always follow district policy when addressing bullying and harassment at the school, according to a statement sent out Friday afternoon by Laramie County School District 1.

 

May 2, 2019



CHEYENNE – McCormick Junior High administrators didn’t always follow district policy when addressing bullying and harassment at the school, according to a statement sent out Friday afternoon by Laramie County School District 1.

The statement noted that the district has concluded its investigation into homophobic and racist flyers found at McCormick in March, and plans to share “limited” details of that investigation with the public at its board meeting next Monday.

But LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said he will not be releasing much, if any, of the full investigative report, again citing staff and student confidentiality protections.

“We’ll probably be able to release only limited parts of the report, but we’re addressing all the different issues,” he said. “It has student and staff names in it, so we’ll make some general statements.”

LCSD1’s statement said the investigation found “some” instances of bullying, harassment and confrontation among students at McCormick over time.

This includes minority and LGBTQ students, as well as students with disabilities.

It also notes McCormick staff members have not always followed district policy regarding reports of bullying, which states the building’s principal must launch an investigation into every report made. Failing to follow this policy could result in Title IX noncompliance.

Brown said the district will now increase education efforts regarding tolerance and cultural proficiency for staff and students. But he didn’t specify any particular changes to policies or programs.

“We’re looking into everything,” Brown said. “In fact, we’re getting a plan together to roll out on Monday night.”

Brown will draft the new plan with guidance from Title IX coordinator John Balow, who led the investigation. Those reviewing the incident and systemic bullying at McCormick interviewed students, parents and staff.

“The new plan will be somewhat specific to McCormick, to the district and community-wide,” Brown said. “We want our students to feel safe, and we want our students to be respectful of each other. We hope, at the end of this, we’ll be a better school district.”

On March 27, homophobic and racist flyers were handed out and put up in the hallway by McCormick students, targeting members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. The flyers read, “it’s great to be straight it’s not OK to be gay,” “black lives only matter because if it weren’t for them who would pick our cotton,” and “Join the KKK.”

This prompted the investigation into whether a culture or pattern of bullying and harassment exists at the school, and if administrators failed to follow policy. The investigation officially began April 8.

But Brown didn’t offer additional information about who hung the flyers or if disciplinary action had been taken.

Kaycee Cook, the school GSA co-sponsor and substitute teacher who first reported the flyers to Wyoming Equality, said LCSD1 should release the full report with personal information redacted.

“The community has a right to know exactly what happened,” she said Friday. “They haven’t told parents what’s gone on, and they certainly haven’t told teachers or staff members. Until I know what policies are going to be changed, it’s hard for me to really address it.”

She said the district’s statement minimized the experiences of McCormick students whose lives have been upended by harassment at the school.

“The district doesn’t take any blame in this,” she said. “They’re going to use (former McCormick Principal) Jeff Conine as the scapegoat. And while he was the gatekeeper, there are parents who have told the administration about bullying issues. They already knew this wasn’t an isolated event.”

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle recently published a story in which a number of former and current McCormick students discussed the culture of harassment at the school. All of the people who spoke for the story discussed how they tried to get help from the building principals, often naming Conine, but all of them stated they never got a resolution to their complaints.

Last week, the district announced that Conine would no longer be in charge of the school, although they haven’t said whether he was fired, resigned or has been reassigned. Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame said Conine will likely handle administrative duties.

“It was my understanding that Conine felt threats were made against him,” Burlingame said. “If that is the case, we unequivocally renounce them. The good news is this has brought the community together, and the district seems to be working in good faith with us.”

Bain Elementary Principal Todd Burns is the interim principal at McCormick for the remainder of the school year.

Cook still isn’t sure when she’ll be reinstated as a substitute teacher and GSA sponsor at McCormick. Shortly after she told Wyoming Equality about the flyers, Cook received an email from Conine that said she was no longer welcome as a substitute at the school.

“I asked them on Monday and said, ‘There’s a new principal, does this mean I’m reinstated?’” she said. “They won’t even respond to me. They’ve all promised me I would be notified when the investigation was concluded.”

 
 

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