Principal apologizes for ‘divisive’ video on racism during Utah high school assembly

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The principal of a Utah high school apologized to parents and students for a video about racism shown during an assembly, local outlets reported.

The video, shown Nov. 23 at Sky View High School in Smithfield, Utah, featured a song about the historical mistreatment of Black Americans from the perspective of a singer who says he doesn’t want to avoid difficult conversations about racism. The title of the video, “400 Years,” refers to “400 years of being held down” by racism and includes lyrics about wanting to “stop using my privilege just to look away.”

As the song plays, the video shows clips of violence toward Black Americans, including footage of protesters being beaten by police during the Civil Rights movement, as well as photos and videos of Black people who were killed by police or died in police custody, including the high-profile cases of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and George Floyd.

The video also showed a picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was lynched by two white men in 1955 after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. The woman, Carolyn Bryant, said in 2017 that the allegations she leveled against Till were “not true,” The New York Times reported.

Controversy broke out online after the assembly, with some parents saying they felt the presentation was intended to shame white children and others saying that conversations about anti-Black racism were necessary, The Herald Journal reported.

One parent told KUTV 2News they felt the video was “racist,” “woke” and “anti-law enforcement.”

Sky View High School was 87% white, 10% Hispanic, 1.4% Asian and 1% Black as of January 2021, according to the school’s website.

Michael Monson, the school’s principal, said in an email to parents that he believed the video was “more divisive than unifying as it relates to race,” KUTV 2News reported.

“I apologize to both our parents and students that we did not review the video beforehand because it was not something we had seen in other student presentations and not aware that it would be used,” Monson wrote, according to KUTV 2News.

The video was shown as part of a presentation by Dr. Jacqueline Thompson, a retired educator who was recently hired by another school district as an assistant superintendent to work on equity and diversity issues, KUTV 2News reported.

District spokesman Tim Smith told The Herald Journal that the video didn’t accomplish the goal of helping people “understand one another and have mutual respect,” and that he found the way the video “portrays race relations, and the way it portrays police officers” to be one-sided.

“Obviously, in hindsight, we wish the video had been reviewed,” Smith told The Herald Journal. “I think the principal wishes the video had been reviewed ahead of time.”

Sky View High School and the Cache County School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

Smithfield is about 90 miles north of Salt Lake City.

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