Darlene McDonald considers Utah schools in a state of crisis after a series of racist incidents impacting Black students. “This has happened enough over the last month that this should be a state of emergency for the state of Utah,” McDonald said.
McDonald is a native of South Salt Lake City and an activist and part of the Black Utah Roundtable. She has been a prominent voice sounding the alarm on racism and outlining a series of incidents including an Instagram page that recently came to light involving students at Sunset Ridge Middle School in West Jordan, Utah.
The social media page targeted Black students by posting photos of them captioned with insults including, “shut up you’re Black.”
“They had pictures of Black kids from this middle school posted on this Instagram account with the extension of that name, N-I fill in the blank, in derogatory words and phrases about Black kids in that school,” McDonald said.
A spokesman from the Jordan School District sent Atlanta Black Star a statement on its handling of the situation which reads in part, “The content of the Instagram page is upsetting, inappropriate, racist and not something we condone or tolerate in any way. We took action immediately to get the page removed. When those responsible are identified, we will work with law enforcement to hold them accountable.”
Another incident from Bluffdale High School in Bluffdale, Utah, involved a school sanctioned illustration of a Black man depicted in jail wearing an orange jumpsuit for a fundraising event. “The first one is a cartoon character of a Black man in jail behind bars. It really is a case of implicit bias in my opinion,” McDonald said.
McDonald believes the Bluffdale incident stems from a place of implicit bias rather than ill intent. The school’s director, Michael Clark, told KJZZ he’s sorry, admitting it was insensitive.
Skyview High School in Smithfield, Utah, experienced a more controversial reaction after two students arrived at class for Halloween, one was dressed as a basketball player in blackface, and another was dressed as a KKK member.
The school invited Jacqueline Thompson, assistant superintendent of a neighboring school district to facilitate diversity training. As part of Thompson’s training session, she showed a video that focuses on anti-racism and white privilege, which caused an uproar among many parents.
“The parents of some of the students were so offended by her [Jacqueline Thompson] diversity training and the video that the principal apologized to the parents and said maybe we shouldn’t have shown the video, and made absolutely no mention of why she was called there regarding the student showing up in blackface or showing up as the KKK,” McDonald said.
Utah has a population that is 90 percent white and 1.5 percent Black. School districts in Utah that experienced recent racist incidents (Cache County School District, Davis School District and Jordan School District) are all at least 80 percent white, they have a Black student population of 1 percent or less, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Some of the parents objecting to the diversity training video are part of the Facebook group Utah Parents United, which has more than 5,300 followers. Several posts on the Facebook page reveal parents are often upset whenever their children are given school assignments that involved racial issues, and the video Thompson featured drew more than a hundred comments from parents.
Greg Miller is the Director of the Layton Christian Academy in Layton, Utah, and the creator of the controversial video. Miller says a strong reaction, particularly from white people, is exactly what he was going for with the video.
“I get why some people could have an objection to it because if you’re looking at it as if you were given material things to start, I get that didn’t happen, but there are privileges that I have and the biggest one I decided was me being able to step in and out of conversations on race any time I want in a way that African-American people, parents, students cannot,” Miller said.
In late October, the Department of Justice completed an investigation on widespread harassment experienced by Black and Asian students in the Davis School District, just north of Salt Lake City, Utah.
John Robison, president of the Davis School District Board of Education told Atlanta Black Star regarding the federal investigation, “When the Department of Justice investigation started two-and-a-half years ago, every school administrator began extensive training in investigating, assessing, and responding to all racial harassment allegations. With the release of the Department of Justice’s findings, every school administrator continues to be trained.”
McDonald wants to see diversity, equity and inclusion training mandated for educators, and she also believes if social and emotional learning is incorporated into the curriculum, Utah schools will see fewer racist incidents. She knows gaining legislative support for such recommendations will be an uphill battle among the Republican-led Legislature.
“Utah is a very red state, and we have a Republican super majority in the Legislature and many of them have gotten on board with the idea that diversity, equity and inclusion training is CRT — critical race theory — which we all know it is not,” McDonald said.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment from the Utah State Board of Education regarding the racist incidents in recent months but did not hear back at the time of this report.
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