Demonstrations over mask-wearing mandates continued at Douglas County schools on Friday, following a week filled with protests, and reports from students about hateful behavior.
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Demonstrations continued at Douglas County schools on Friday, following a week filled with protests, and reports from students about hateful behavior.
Some, but not all, of the alleged incidents reportedly took place amid mask protests.
In an address to students following protests Wednesday at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, the principal citied "hate speech and racial epithets being tossed about" at the protests and barred further protests planned the next day.
A Douglas County School District spokeswoman later told Colorado Community Media that three "behavioral incidents" investigated by the district were not "classified as hate speech or racial epithets."
Members of the Parasol Patrol, a group that works to support LGBTQIA+ youth and communities, gathered at Castle View High on Friday after hearing from 16-year-old Owen Logan and his mother Samantha Toms, among other parents.
Logan is a junior at Castle View who identifies as bisexual. The 16-year-old told Colorado Community Media he was physically assaulted by another student after he sat during the Pledge of Allegiance on Thursday.
Logan said that for several years, he has remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest what he calls a society that is unsupportive of minority groups and members of his community.
On Thursday, Logan said a classmate became angered by his protest. As students left the classroom, the student shoved him in the hallway and pinned him against lockers, Logan said.
“He grabbed me by my shirt and said, 'People didn’t die for you to sit down, you (expletives, including a homophobic slur),' and then he just walked away,” Logan said.
He said he immediately reported the incident to school administrators. He described school staff members as apologetic and supportive, but he wants the student to be expelled.
Toms, his mother, said they spoke with Castle Rock police and filed an incident report with the school but have not pressed charges.
Two other Castle View students at the Parasol Patrol event told Colorado Community Media they counter-protested the Wednesday anti-mask rally at the school and were heckled by peers.
The students, who said they are also LGBTQIA+ community members, reported being called homophobic slurs, with one saying, "A lot of kids were telling us to kill ourselves."
Castle View’s Wednesday student walkout in protest of COVID-safety mask-wearing requirements was one of several that took place across the district that day and later.
Hundreds of district students at those protests called for an end to a Tri-County Health Department masking requirement for students 2 and older -- a rule that the school district has implemented at its schools.
Members of the high school journalism department covered Castle View’s protest on Wednesday, filming students waving Trump flags, American flags and "Don’t Tread On Me" flags.
The students’ footage also showed Principal Rex Corr making an audio announcement to the entire school body, saying conduct at the protests left him “disappointed.”
“We fell out of peaceful assembly and those interactions devolved into name calling at the best, and at the worst we heard examples of hate speech and racial epithets being tossed about,” Corr said, shown in the video speaking into a phone handset.
In the video, Corr said he would not allow protests on the campus the following day.
“I have deemed these assemblies a disruption to our academic environment, and the most important job we have in this building is teaching and learning,” Corr said in the video.
Jessica Hunziker, the school’s newspaper adviser, confirmed journalists in the student media department shot the footage on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the Castle Rock Police Department said officers investigated allegations that students were harassed or called racist terms during Castle View’s Wednesday protest.
“There were numerous stories and rumors that evolved following Wednesday’s student walk-out at Castle View High School. There were similar reports on Thursday. The Castle Rock Police Department has thoroughly investigated each of these claims. None of these rumors were substantiated,” the statement said.
Asked for clarification, spokeswoman Taylor Temby said the department’s role is to investigate criminal matters. Behavior or disciplinary issues are handled by school administration, she said.
“At this time, there are no open criminal investigations being conducted, but we continue to fully investigate every report we receive,” she said.
In response to Colorado Community Media's request to speak with Corr, district spokeswoman Paula Hans provided a letter the principal sent to the school community on Friday.
“It is important to note that following the conclusion of the investigation into the three behavioral incidents referenced in the communication (from Corr), none are classified as hate speech or racial epithets,” she said.
Corr’s letter said 85 students protested mask requirements that week. Three behavioral incidents later occurred "unrelated to the current mask requirement or the initial walkout itself," Corr wrote.
In the letter, Corr did not specify what the incidents entailed. Administrators and the school resource officer investigated and addressed the issues, Corr said.
Between two and three behavioral incidents occur on average each day in a school Castle View’s size, Corr said, and that the school is working with Castle Rock police as it investigates tips.
“This process can take some time — however, our priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff. Please know I will share as much information as possible while working to protect the integrity of the investigation,” Corr wrote in the letter.
A school spokeswoman was not immediately able to answer questions about whether Corr’s letter referred to Logan’s allegations but said she would inquire once staff returned from the holiday weekend.
Toms said she was disappointed by the statement from Corr and police, which she believes downplayed incidents at the school, but the mother and son were heartened by the Parasol Patrol event.
“I’m surprised, I’m glad, I’m grateful,” Owen said.
Pasha Eve, co-founder of Parasol Patrol, said she helped organize Friday's Parasol Patrol gathering at Castle View to show support for LGBTQIA+ students. The group only goes where it is invited and was not at the school in protest or counter-protest, Pasha Eve said.
More than 60 people lined the sidewalk across from Castle View as students left school for the day, waving signs and cheering. Many passersby honked or waived back in support. A handful of cars hassled the group as they drove past.
Pasha Eve said she believes political tensions in the country in recent years are emboldening homophobia.
“This is a pressing problem,” she said. “The calls and request have been increasing so much.”
This story was updated to reflect a district spokeswoman said she will seek further clarity regarding Corr's letter and Logan's allegations.
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