Tuesday, December 9, 2003
Recent incidents in the school district are disturbing and underscore the importance of teaching respect for our fellow citizens in our schools, in our community and in our homes.
An elementary school student reportedly was subjected to racial harassment by two older youths while riding a school bus in the fall. More unnerving, there have been a dozen or so incidents of race-related graffiti on bathroom walls at Steamboat Springs High School during the semester. The graffiti included swastikas and made reference to ethnic cleansing and white supremacy. In one instance, a specific student was threatened, school officials said.
No suspects have been identified in any of the incidents, though Routt County Crime Stoppers has offered $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the graffiti.
Steamboat Springs High School resource officer Debbie Funston said the graffiti must be taken seriously. The charges could -- and should -- amount to a felony offense. "We have to treat it seriously," Funston aid. "It may show there are some underlying issues in the school we need to deal with."
That's the question the school district -- and by extension, the community -- must answer: Are these isolated incidents perpetrated by a few or an indication of a greater problem?
We hope the former is the case.
Steamboat Springs has one of the smallest minority populations in the state, and that is reflected in our schools. Just 100 of the roughly 2,000 students in the district are nonwhite. Only a dozen are black. In other communities, such incidents in the schools might prompt outrage from the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League or other groups, whose mission it is to serve as advocates for the interests of minorities.
We have no such groups in Routt County, but our outrage should be not be any less at overtly racist behavior.
We have a responsibility to ensure our community is open and welcoming to all, and that the rights and interests of all are protected. Given these recent incidents, we must be vigilant in ensuring racism is not allowed to take seed and spread.
We applaud the high school's efforts to tackle the graffiti issue through discussion of the topic with students during the high school's anchor period and through its exchange program with Denver's inner-city Manual High School. We encourage more such programs.
Finally, we hope the perpetrators of the graffiti on the bathroom walls are identified and punished to the fullest extent of the law. That's the surest way to send the message that such behavior simply won't be tolerated.