By Ann Jantz, wyo4news.com
ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING (Nov. 12, 2019) — Sweetwater School District No. 1 administration vows to work a little harder to make sure schools are safe for students after a parent said her daughter has been subjected to racist comments at Rock Springs High School.
The complaint was leveled Monday, Nov. 11, at the district’s board of trustees meeting. Mera Souare spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
She said her daughter has been called the “n” word by some students at the high school and described how this type of racial targeting has negatively affected her daughter.
“I know I’m the only parent here, but there are so many more who are dealing with this,” she told the board.
Souare noted racism is not the only problem, saying she has heard complaints about other students being targeted due to their weight and sexual orientation.
Souare said she did not wish to point fingers but, instead, hoped to be a part of the solution. She asked if the district offered bully prevention and training which taught dignity, safety and respect for all.
She called high school “a very sensitive time for our teens.”
“I can see the pain on your face … we apologize,” Superintendent Kelly McGovern said. “We want to do our best to support you.”
McGovern said the “social justice piece” is difficult to address in a meaningful way but noted the district is currently working on suicide prevention and how bullying can be a contributing factor. Once the training piece comes together, it will be offered not only to teachers but also to students and parents in all schools. She noted the training for grade school students will look very different than high school student training.
McGovern added it takes everyone to make a difference and commended Souare on coming forward.
“We want to make sure we have a voice for everyone … and we are taking steps,” she said. “We want to focus on establishing an environment where students feel safe.”
Souare thanked the board for the opportunity to speak but said she is sad such behavior is happening in our schools. “Something needs to be done,” she said before leaving the podium.
After the meeting, RSHS Principal Annie Fletcher spoke about what steps the high school is taking to make sure cases of bullying are addressed.
Fletcher said the high school’s schedule change, with reduced passing periods between classes and an increase in lunch supervision, has helped lessen such harmful interactions. When they do occur, the school administration considers each situation on an individual basis, she added.
Fletcher said faculty and administration continue to teach empathy — but admitted it’s a hard concept to teach, especially when the ability to sympathize with others is often learned first in the home.
So, how do teachers teach empathy? Fletcher said the school has gotten better about choosing books. Such books that have a classic theme of empathy and which are taught in the school include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men.”
RSHS also offers a gay-straight alliance, Fletcher added.
Key to change is also trying to celebrate what students do right, according to Fletcher.
Fletcher said students, too, can help combat bullying and the affects such behavior has on an individual. Students can help by watching for changes in their peers and reporting those changes to a trusted adult, she noted.