Two students at Riverton High School have been disciplined after photos and videos circulating on social media showed them walking into school Wednesday morning wearing white robes with pointed hoods, which resembled Klu Klux Klan regalia.
Some commenters pointed out that the students were likely participating in Riverton High School's holiday spirit week, and may not have realized that their "White Out Day" attire would resemble Klan robes. But an investigation by school administrators turned up something much more sinister.
"The facts indicate that they deliberately and intentionally entered the school in attire known to be associated with the Ku Klux Klan," wrote Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow in a statement Wednesday night. "This hurts our community, state, and nation."
According to Fremont County School District 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder, the "White Out" theme day was meant as a celebration of the Riverton High School's team colors, red and white, but the students used the theme as a cover to "make a statement."
"Originally [the students] represented it to be something other than that. As we gathered more information from multiple parties, we are 100 percent certain that it was meant to represent Klu Klux Klan attire," Snyder said. "They were immediately removed from the building that day, and they are now being disciplined."
Snyder declined to share the nature of the punishment, citing concerns about the students' privacy.
One Riverton High School teacher, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said they learned about the incident early on Wednesday from students who had seen it firsthand. One had taken a video of the students entering the school, laughing.
That teacher said that many students of color were "horrified, uncomfortable and fearful" that their fellow students would align themselves with the KKK, but added that for many, this was not their first experience with racism in the Riverton School District.
"A lot of my students are so desensitized to the racism here, that it's really sad. Sometimes their reactions are just 'Oh, well that's Riverton,' or 'Oh, it happens,'" the teacher said.
Fremont County District 25 borders the Wind River Reservation, and Riverton High School serves as the designated high school for students who attended Arapahoe Elementary and Middle Schools. The district is among the most diverse in the state, serving more Native American students than any other district in Wyoming.
The anonymous teacher said that a lengthy out-of-school suspension would be an appropriate punishment for the students involved, but that the administrators should take a systematic look at racism in the district and how it impacts students of color.
"I think what would be more constructive, because these racist encounters happen so often, is to have an assembly about it. Bring in different speakers, talk about racism, talk about how it affects people. Maybe have some student testimony. I know I can add the staff perspective of racism at our school," the teacher said. "Something needs to be done in the whole school and the whole district to address racism."
According to Snyder, district administrators met with Riverton High School staff this morning to discuss ways to address what happened with the larger school community, and student groups are organizing their own response. He said the district is taking the incident seriously, but denied that it was representative of a larger cultural problem in Riverton schools.
"The unfortunate part of this is the fact that it does paint a picture in a certain manner, and we don't believe that that's our students," Snyder said. "Our students are great at working with each other and creating a sense of community in school. And when these things happen, we're going to deal with them."
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