By Chrissy Suttles and Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – Laramie County School District 1 officials announced Friday that McCormick Junior High Principal Jeff Conine was no longer in charge of the school.
The decision comes exactly one month after homophobic and racist flyers were found at McCormick.
LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown wouldn’t comment on the details of Conine’s departure, citing personnel matters.
Wyoming Equality Executive Director Sara Burlingame said her understanding is Conine will now handle district administrative duties after more than two decades with LCSD1.
Parents of McCormick students also were notified of the change Friday.
Bain Elementary Principal Todd Burns will take over as McCormick’s interim principal for the remainder of the school year, which ends June 6. Before his time at Bain, Burns was at Carey Junior High for eight years.
Bain will be led in the interim by Tiffany Rehbein, who has worked as an administrative intern there this year.
“We needed to finish out the year and needed someone to do that. And Mr. Burns is going to do that,” Brown said. “We’re just moving Mr. Burns over there to complete the year.”
District administrators will begin the search for a new principal immediately. The successful candidate will assume duties for the 2019-20 school year.
Burlingame said Conine’s exit is a step in the right direction, but noted it won’t solve the school’s more systemic problems.
“It’s more than just one person,” she said. “We still think they need to hire more African American personnel and diverse staff members. Training all teachers, paras and administrators in cultural competency is just as necessary today as it was yesterday.”
Reflecting on Wyoming Equality’s efforts to work with Conine, Burlingame said it was “truly unusual” how unresponsive he was.
“There is no other administrator around the state who has just flatly ignored us the way McCormick has,” she said. “I think (Conine) rejected us at every juncture, and I wish that had been different. Since it wasn’t, I think this is what’s best for the students and the families there.”
Burlingame said she hopes the district includes community advocates in vetting a qualified principal to lead the school moving forward.
McCormick has been the focus of community attention since March 26, when homophobic and racist flyers were handed out and put up in the hallway by students. Conine was heavily criticized for his response to the incident, which ultimately revealed a longtime culture of bullying at the school.
The flyers read, “it’s great to be straight it’s not OK to be gay,” “black lives only matter because if it weren’t for them who would pick our cotton,” and “Join the KKK,” with “the confederate kid club” in parentheses. The flyers were directed at members of McCormick’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
Kaycee Cook, the group’s co-sponsor and a substitute teacher at McCormick, sent a copy of the flyer to Wyoming Equality the day they were handed out. Shortly after, Cook received an email from Conine that said she was no longer welcome as a substitute at the school.
Public outcry over the flyers, Cook’s dismissal and the district’s response prompted demands that the LCSD1 Board of Trustees investigate discrimination and bullying at the school and provide a culturally competent mental health professional to students.
Although Brown previously told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that Cook would be reinstated, the former GSA sponsor has yet to return. She said Brown and others are giving her the runaround, ultimately making her time substituting at other LCSD1 schools “uncomfortable.”
Cook doesn’t want the administrative change to result in community complacency.
“I’m hoping Mr. Burns can help change that climate and start to build trust with staff and the students again,” she said. “Because it’s really important these students don’t go into the summer with not having dealt with this. But, it’s much bigger than just Conine.”
LCSD1 Title IX coordinator John Balow is leading an investigation to determine whether a pattern of harassment exists at the school, and if administrators failed to follow policy when addressing these incidents. That investigation is expected to wrap up in the next two weeks.
Conine could not be reached for comment for this story by press time.