The Cache County Board of Education’s regular meeting Thursday was met with a large crowd of concerned residents and parents looking to provide public feedback on the recent Sky View controversy.
The controversy involved a Nov. 23 diversity assembly at the Smithfield high school, during which a country music video was shown including stock footage from the Civil Rights Era and depictions of more recent police brutality and profiling of Black Americans. Several residents said they felt the song’s message was an attack on white people and law enforcement. Other residents defended the assembly, saying it was a necessary response to recent racially insensitive incidents students observed at the school and shared on social media.
Superintendent Steve Norton began the meeting with a district-issued statement detailing the events leading up to the assembly.
A student at Sky View High School showed up on Halloween in a KKK costume. That same day another student came on stage dressed in a basketball uniform with a bald cap and his face painted brown. The district assured attendees that both students were referred to the office to discuss why those costumes were offensive.
“These two incidents are indicative of the mistakes sometimes made by students as they move toward adulthood. They provide opportunities for educators to teach and assist students,” stated Norton.
Students and parents concerned about discrimination and potential racism in the school district gathered outside the district administration building an hour before the meeting began to quietly protest. Many of these same people spoke directly to the board during the meeting, including Ridgeline High School senior Keilani Cabatu.
“The consequences of racism, microaggressions and actions including the impact of inaction by administration and teachers, are largely affecting each and every one of us,” Cabatu said. “It is important as educators and people of authority to recognize how these costumes appropriate people of those cultures, which makes them feel as though they don’t belong.”
Cabatu is the president of the Diversity Discovery Club at Ridgeline, a club Sky View does not have.
“I can’t imagine not having a place that makes me feel like I can belong. The minority students at Sky View deserve the same class at their school, a class where they can feel at home and safe,” she added.
Another man who spoke, Mario Mathis, said he has lived in Utah for eight and a half years. He has spoken on diversity at many schools, including Utah State University.
“Think about it. A young man wore a Klan suit to a school. That is a serious problem,” Mathis said. “I don’t care what you look like. I don’t care about your religion or anything else. You should be disappointed. Another child, a white child, wore blackface. I don’t care what you look like, or your religion or the lack thereof, you should be disappointed and outraged. This is a reflection of parenting that goes on around here.”
Mathis said that he has been called racial slurs, including the N-word, several times in the valley.
“What I’ve seen here in this town is extremely disappointing,” Mathis said. “One of the ladies who spoke mentioned unity. Did you really want unity? Did you really want unity? It’s almost a rhetorical question. I hope the answer genuinely is yes, but I don’t believe you.”
Another topic was the video shown at the Nov. 23 assembly — ”400 Years” by Greg Miller — which the district afterward determined was inappropriate for the assembly, calling it “divisive rather than unifying.” Nearly all of the concerned parents said the video conveyed ideas from Critical Race Theory, the discourse that race is a social construct and that racism is embedded in legal and social systems. CRT has become a byword among many conservative pundits, who say that its aim is to divide communities by portraying white people as racists and overemphasizing racial oppression in history.
The video was originally posted on Oct. 6, and at some point between then and Nov. 26, it was flagged as age-restricted on YouTube, meaning only users over the age of 18 could view it. Several concerned parents wondered why an age-restricted video was shown at a school assembly, but it’s not clear whether the video was age-restricted at the time of the assembly or whether upset YouTube users flagged its content as inappropriate after the assembly controversy began.
After The Herald Journal contacted YouTube for clarification on when and how the video was flagged as age-restricted, spokesperson Jack Malon wrote: “Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our systems and quickly removed the age-restriction.”
As of Friday evening, the video was no longer age-restricted on YouTube. Social media platforms will sometimes restrict access to content automatically if enough users report it as inappropriate, although the newspaper has not confirmed that this is what happened in this case.
Dan Caldwell, a concerned parent, said that he did not believe CRT or social and emotional learning belonged in schools.
“What we’re seeing is that it’s being snuck into these schools all the time,” Caldwell said. “Someone’s got to be held accountable for this because they knew what they were doing. They knew what they were putting in that movie. That’s what happens with all the stuff — they sneak it in, sneak it in, sneak it in.”
Also concerned about CRT was Heather Mueller, who said that the video made her daughter ashamed to be white and it taught to believe police officers were evil. She also said that one of the first legal slave owners was a Black man.
“Many of my friends were of different nationalities, cultures, and religions,” she said. “Something I was taught in my experiences there and taught by my friends of color was that victimhood was taught just as racism is taught. It all has the same ugly root — it’s hate. Hate is the common denominator of it all. CRT is not a curriculum but teachings and theories that teach and promote victimhood, division and more hate.”
Public input took a little over an hour and left both Board Member Chris Corcoran and Norton emotional.
Corcoran said he hoped the board takes the public’s comments into account moving forward.
“I hope we do something constructive, in partnership,” Corcoran said. “As for my position as a board member, I feel that I want to commit to helping to make this district better and to not have the kind of anecdotes we’ve heard occur as frequently, or even at all.”
Norton echoed those thoughts.
“I’m glad we had this open session, and I’m glad we had those people come. All of us have different life experiences, and it’s not a good feeling to know that some of our kids might not be having a good experience in our schools for whatever reason,” he said.
A recording of the School Board meeting, including public comment, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WYIFE_iC78 (URL is case-sensitive).