ROCK SPRINGS – A student-created political bulletin board kicked off a series of events last month at Rock Springs High School including vandalism, hate speech, talk of bringing guns to school, student protests, and public criticism. It is a challenge to balance student safety and self-expression, but the Sweetwater County School Board of Trustees and other leaders praised administrators and teachers for their handling of the controversy, though they noted they didn’t bear the fallout alone.
“You are an excellent staff,” Superintendent Kelly McGovern said at Monday’s school board meeting.
She noted the difficulties of providing answers when the district is limited by law in what it can release, such as student names, for fear of violating privacy. She cited the words of a past trustee, who told her it’s like being in a boxing ring with one arm tied behind your back facing multiple opponents who aren’t similarly restrained.
McGovern said that social media remains one of the most difficult things they have to deal with. She said it makes communication easier, but sometimes it can be used to amplify complaints or confusion, and in this case it led to “terrible emails” and other attacks. She said they can receive conflicting feedback, such as being told certain actions are too much or not enough, and that it was especially pronounced in this case.
Nevertheless, McGovern said that as a former RSHS teacher who had walked the halls thousands of times, she was pleased with how the staff performed.
“We are with you, and I couldn’t be prouder of Rock Springs High School, because I am them,” she said.
Human Resources Director Nicole Bolton said people should let them know when they are upset so they can handle it, but remember that there is a proper channel to direct feedback. Extra credit should be given to the spouses and children of staff members, who both stood in support and sometimes received direct attacks, Bolton said to applause from the audience.
Trustee George Reedy, who joined the meeting by phone, said he appreciated a parent of a student who took the time to get the facts and publically correct the record along with his son’s behavior. He said it was a good lesson for the student to learn.
Trustee Matt Jackman said he wanted to thank the staff of School District 1 for teaching him how success is measured and that it’s different for each person.
Trustee Max Mickelson said he purposely waited for the good of the order part of the meeting to express his thoughts on the “shenanigans.” He said he couldn’t apologize enough for those who use children or spouses to attack district officials. He worried that the way the criticism was directed would make it more difficult to attract staff. He questioned why they would want to move here if they saw that behavior.
He also said that nothing in school curriculum promotes racism or bigotry, so if students are hearing this kind of hatred, “that comes from home.”
At the end of the meeting, Chairwoman Carol Jelaco said she was impressed by the staff, whose “platters are overflowing,” and how they come back and do more every day.
“Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart,” she said.