LAYTON — A black Layton High senior says he was spit on and called a racial slur at a recent school dance, but he faces possible charges because he defended himself.
Meanwhile, it is unclear how the school or police are handling the student who allegedly attacked him.
Teague Casper, 17, said he was dancing with a group of friends Feb. 10 at his school’s Sweethearts Dance when a white student shoved him, spat on his face and called him a “n-----.”
“I freaked out,” Casper said. “I hit him to get away from him.”
He said he ran to the bathroom to calm down. Administrators then took him into an office. After interviewing the white student, an assistant principal and the school’s resource officer came and told Casper he might be facing criminal charges and was suspended from school.
“They never asked me if I was OK, if I wanted to call my mom,” Casper said, adding they never asked him for his side of the story.
According to school records provided by Casper to the Standard-Examiner, the teen was suspended for two days and will not be allowed to attend his senior prom.
Casper and his mother, Edee, feel the district’s response has so far been biased in favor of his aggressor. Casper’s situation has been discussed on social media, and Black Lives Matter Utah organized a call to action to phone the school en masse Feb. 21 to demand why Casper was punished for being a victim of a racially motivated attack.
“Because of the allegations, which involve someone who was treated differently because of his race, we are conducting an investigation,” Williams said, noting both high schools are looking into the incident. “We have to interview all the individuals involved.”
Williams said statements from both students led to the decision to suspend Casper. It is not clear if the other student, who cannot be identified because of student privacy laws, faced any punishment.
Casper said he punched the other student in self-defense but that he can’t remember how many times or how hard. The school has video of the punches and recorded student interviews.
Things got worse for Casper when he, his grandmother and mother all attended a meeting Feb. 13 with school officials, who said students reported being afraid of Casper after the school dance.
“I don’t get how all these people came in to say I was a mean person,” Casper said.
In addition to the school district’s investigations, a report of an assault was filed Feb. 10 with Layton Police Department, indicating the parents of the white student sought to press charges against Casper. The police department confirmed the case was closed and potential charges were referred to youth court.
Casper also provided the Standard-Examiner with screenshots of a Snapchat conversation in which a student mentions hearing that a group of Clearfield students “literally want to jump Teague and end his life.”
Casper also received a direct message on Twitter where a user told Casper to “watch yourself.”
Williams said he was not aware of any threats made against Casper.
“We would certainly take any threat seriously,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter who made the threat … we are trying to keep the school safe.”
Casper filed a threat report Feb. 13 with Layton Police. The department said an investigation is ongoing.
SLURS, ATTACKS NOT UNCOMMON
Casper’s experience of alleged racism is not unique among students of color in Northern Utah and the state.
At least once a month since September 2017, readers have reported incidents involving racial aggressions in Northern Utah schools, according to reader tips verified by the Standard-Examiner.
Last month at a high school basketball game between Morgan High and Summit Academy, four students shouted from the Morgan High student section “(n-----)” and “white power,” Morgan High Assistant Principal Tyrel Mikesell said.
Also last month, a Hurricane High student in Hurricane posted a photo on Snapchat with a noose around her neck and the caption “Happy national (n——-) day.” The photo was posted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In October, Weber High had to deal with community backlash after members of the school’s cheerleader squad posted a video in which the girls yelled “(f———) (n——-).”
And in September, Davis School District dealt, once again, with racism, when students at Woods Cross High chanted “build the wall” at a football game against Bountiful High. The chant was in reference to President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.
RACISM VS. BULLYING
Utah school officials interviewed by the Standard-Examiner, including administrators in Weber, Davis and Washington counties, said there is no specific classification for racial aggressions. Most school districts file the complaints under bullying or harassment.
In the case of Davis School District, Williams said the district tracks a long list of situations involving students, but it does not make any special distinction for attacks motived by race or ethnicity.
He said an event involving racism can be classified as bullying.
In the incident at Morgan High, the school notified the parents of the students and sent an apology to the other school. Like Davis School District, the incident could fall under harassment or verbal abuse, Mikesell said.
According to Morgan High’s 2017-18 handbook, traditionally a student accused of verbal abuse or harassment will have to meet with the principal to discuss the violation and the “foundational principle of RESPECT.” The student will also earn discipline points.
At Hurricane High, the Washington County School District referred the incident to local law enforcement agencies.
Because of federal student privacy laws, it is unclear if the aggressors are punished or what the punishments are.
Casper’s mom, Edee, said she does not condone violence but understands why her son reacted the way he did.
“It’s very upsetting because you see a lot of racism around here and it shouldn’t be like that,” she said.
Casper, who is accepted to attend Weber State University and wants to be a physical therapist, said he feels lucky he had a group of people standing up for him. He said he wonders what happens to black and brown students who don’t have that network.
He said he does not want any other student of color to go through what he has gone through.
“It sucks, honestly,” Casper said. “They should care about every student.”