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DOJ representative attends Canyons meeting for racism discussion

By KSL.com  |  Posted Apr 5th, 2011 @ 10:12pm


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SANDY -- What may have been a regular school board meeting weeks ago became a platform for discussing racism and discrimination in the Canyons School District Tuesday night.

District officials asked the U.S. Department of Justice for help in dealing with the aftermath of allegations of racism at Alta High School.


It goes beyond the spirit assembly and the text messages that the public is aware of.

–Jeff Haney, Canyons spokesman


"We want technical assistance," said Canyon School District spokesman Jeff Haney. "These are groups that have a lot of insight to how groups like ours can start the discussions community-wide."

Department of Justice representative Rosa Salamanca made a special trip from Denver to Utah to attend the Tuesday meeting. She was there to help advise the school district and community on how to have healthy and constructive discussions about racism and discrimination.

"We feel it's important to start these sometimes difficult discussions," Haney said.

The recent incident wasn't the first that raised questions at Alta High. Haney says many people came forward with concerns about racism during this current investigation into what some took to be offensive actions at a Spirit Bowl assembly, where a student wore a white pillow case over his head that resembled a KKK hood.

The investigation also led the recovery of a racially charged text message sent to some students. The students behind it have been suspended.


"One of our sons said, ‘Yeah, I hope they do something about this one kid because he keeps calling me the "N" word.' And we both were completely shocked that that was really still happening," -Heather Gist, parent

"We are looking into all of these types of incidents at Alta High," said Jennifer Toomer-Cook, a spokeswoman for the Canyons School District.

"That picture doesn't surprise me, because we've seen even worse than that," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the Utah chapter of the NAACP. "The NAACP is very concerned when these things are going around."

Whether it was all meant as a joke, Eddie and Heather Gist say kids should know better. Ignorance is no excuse, they say -- and it's no excuse for the way their biracial son has been treated at Hillcrest High School.

The news of Alta's incident prompted a discussion in the Gist home. "As we've been discussing all of this, one of our sons said, ‘Yeah, I hope they do something about this one kid because he keeps calling me the "N" word.' And we both were completely shocked that that was really still happening," Heather Gist said.

What happened at Alta could happen at any school in the state, says Kasi Richards. It's what happens from this point on that's important now.

"I hope that the effects go beyond the Canyons School District to more of Utah," Richards said.

Wednesday morning, the Department of Justice representative will meet with more district staff members to discuss racism. This could be the beginning of a series of community meetings to resolve the situation.

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Story written with contributions from Jennifer Stagg and Shara Park.

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