Canyons School District responds to concerns of racial stereotyping in middle school handbook

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SANDY (ABC4 News) – Student handbooks from Indian Hills Middle School have been withdrawn after concerns about a stock image of a Black man was used to depict gang clothing in the dress code section.

The Black student, whose parents requested that his identity remain anonymous, said he noticed the image earlier this week when his teacher passed out the handbooks in class and had students looked through it.

“I saw that they used a Black male as the cover for gang clothing and that just made me feel uncomfortable,” he said. “I felt like they were just going into the stereotype that most Black men end up in jail or selling drugs.”

The student brought the matter to his parents, who contacted Black Lives Matter Organizer Lex Scott.

“The picture was very cringeworthy,” said Scott. “We live in Utah, it’s two percent Black. Most people here don’t know very many Black people. They need to be very conscious about what they’re putting in the hands of the children because what they put in their hands, they’re putting in their minds. It is forming racial perceptions at this age.”

Scott explained that racial perceptions developed at a young age can have a long-term effect.

“It’s a big deal because these children grow up to be landlords, police officers, employers, etc. and if they have that stigma in their mind that black people are gang members, black people are impoverished, black people are criminals, that’s going to stick with them their entire lives,” she said. “They need to be taught from a young age, black people can be successful, they can educate themselves, and they can own businesses.”

Jeff Haney, spokesperson for the Canyons School District said administrators responded quickly after they were contacted by Scott.
“Representation matters. Stereotyping matters and we want all students to feel welcome and included at all of our schools. We could very clearly see upon our review of this stock image that was used in the student handbook…that it could make someone feel not welcome in their school,” he said.

Haney said all online handbooks were removed from Indian Hills Middle School’s website, physical handbooks were taken back from students to be replaced, and a directive issued from the superintendent to all other schools to review handbooks.

“It was a reminder for us. We are an organization that prides itself on offering a world-class education to students and we also pride ourselves in having welcoming environments of all students,” said Haney.

The student said he learned how to identify negative portrayals of Black people in the media through summer camp hosted by Black Lives Matter Utah this year.

“It’s really emotional to think about the impact that camp had on these kids. This student is such a good kid. He’s a hero and we knew he was a hero. He’s just really mature for his age,” said Scott.

Both the student and Scott said they felt like the district’s swift response to their concerns was a victory.

“I feel really proud because I’ve never done something that big. It just feels good that I was able to make a change. I’m so appreciative of Lex for helping me have my voice heard,” said the student.

“Canyon School District’s superintendent is amazing and he understands racial issues. He wants to squash them and make sure every child feels safe in his district,” said Scott.

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