Outraged parents and community members flocked to the Cache County School Board meeting on Dec. 2, divided over the recent handling of racial issues at Sky View High School in Smithfield, Utah.
Parents upset over a video shown during a diversity assembly at Sky View High School attended the school board meeting to voice their dissatisfaction with the district’s approach on issues involving race in the schools.
The three-month-long controversy began in late October when two Sky View students arrived at school in racist Halloween costumes. One student dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and the other dressed as a basketball player and came to school in blackface.
Brontë Forsgren, who graduated from Sky View High School in 2013, said the story reminded her of her time at Sky View when a girl came to school dressed as Oprah for Halloween, wearing blackface.
“At the time, everyone just laughed and thought it was sort of strange. We certainly didn’t understand the problematic and harmful dimensions of blackface,” Forsgren said. “Unfortunately, I am not surprised at all that this happened.”
According to Steve Norton, the Cache County School District superintendent, both students who dressed up in racist costumes were sent to the office. They were then advised to remove their costumes and their parents were contacted. When asked if further disciplinary actions were taken, the school failed to respond.
In a statement to Deseret News, Norton said, “It’s not a good feeling to know some of our kids might not be having a good experience in our schools, for whatever reason. We’ll be getting back to you with some concrete things that we are going to do.”
In reaction to the outrage over the racist Halloween costumes, the district organized a diversity meeting. They invited Jaqueline Thompson, then-director of education equality in the Cache school system, to give the presentation.
Thompson was recently hired as an assistant director of the Davis School District, where she will oversee the district’s reaction to the Department of Justice inquiry, which found “severe and widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students” in the district.
During the presentation, Thompson played a country music video by Gregory S. Miller, titled “400 Years.” The video plays footage of police officers beating protestors during the civil rights era and from the 2020 protests.
The video also shows a photograph of Emmett Till in his coffin, after the 14-year-old African American was lynched for whistling at two white women. The video also displays the killing of George Floyd, as well as photographs of other people killed by police.
According to school employees, Thompson’s presentation was well received by the students. However, only one hour after the assembly concluded, the district began getting phone calls from furious parents who claimed the film depicted police in a terrible light and was intended to shame white children.
Following the uproar over the assembly, Sky View High Principal Michael Monson emailed parents saying, “The video has proven to be more divisive than unifying as it relates to race.”
Some parents are now enraged at the school for apologizing to the “angry mob” of parents who were angered by the video. According to Forsgren, the fact that parents are more outraged by a video showing the history of race than they are over the original racist incident is exactly the problem.
“I am tired of white people’s feelings being prioritized over Black and brown people’s lives and lived experiences,” explained Forsgren. “The division is not caused by the discussion of race, but by the defensiveness of white people.”
Monson clarified the framing of his apology to KSL.com.
“What I was apologizing for is that I had not reviewed the video before the assembly. I am not apologizing for the assembly or the content of the assembly,” Monson said. “I do apologize in the sense that we had no intention whatsoever of dividing the community.”
This all culminated on Dec. 2 at the Cache County Board of Education meeting, with angry citizens on both sides showing a familiar divide.
A mother and employee of Sky View High School, Heather Moller, addressed the board and said the video was disturbing to her 17-year-old daughter.
“My daughter came home that day and said the video left her ashamed to be white-skinned and that police were inherently evil,” Moller said, according to Deseret News.
Alean Hunt, a parent and volunteer at the school, stated that, “While in class, supposedly supervised by teachers, my kids had to be slaves and slave owners to celebrate Black History Month.”
“White privilege means that your life has not been made more difficult because of your skin color, full stop,” Hunt told the board. “This board has a duty to ensure that schools are safe for all students, especially the most vulnerable among them. They are not. People are failing at their jobs and have failed for many years and it is past time for accountability.”
Justice Smith then spoke at Thursday’s meeting and questioned why there was more outcry over the school’s educational efforts than the events preceding the assembly.
“The outcry should have been more in the beginning phases with those individuals coming to school as opposed to the educational piece,” Smith said.
Mario Mathis, representative of Black Lives Matter Utah, agreed.
“You all should be disappointed,” Mathis said. “This is a reflection of the parenting that goes on around here.”
Another parent who works for the school district said that students of color, LGBTQ+ students and those with disabilities are not getting the support they deserve educationally or emotionally.
As a Sky View alumnus, Forsgren hopes some parents will broaden their horizons and see the impact these issues are still having on people today.
“As for the parents outraged over their children witnessing history happen in that video, I think it is healthy for students in high school to start grappling with these issues, and if your child didn’t already know about these issues, then you haven’t done your job as parents,” Forsgren said.