School administrators, student leaders and attorneys assured parents that steps have been taken to ensure all students feel welcome at West High School when classes convene Aug. 29.
Principal Bill Boston told an estimated 75 parents who attended a meeting at the school Thursday night that teachers will undergo specific training to bolster their knowledge of constitutional freedoms, cultural and ethnic sensitivity and instruct them about state law, state school board policy and the Salt Lake Board of Education's new policy on religion in the curriculum.Student leaders have undergone similar training, participating in workshops conducted by representatives of the National Conference of Christian and Jews.
"I think it's really not going to flare up when school starts like people think it will. The excitement of the moment has died down," said student body president Trevor Dryer.
Despite their pledge to make West High a kinder and gentler place, parents still expressed concern that the school climate will be hostile as students attempt to sort out the emotional events of last spring.
A Jewish student, who last winter complained about choir teacher Richard Torgerson's selection of mostly Christian music for the school's holiday concert, filed suit against the school district in May alleging civil rights violations.
The student, Rachel Bauchman, also sought and obtained a court order prohibiting the performance of the two "devotional" songs by the school's a cappella choir during the school's graduation ceremony. At the time, Bauchman was a member of the choir.
But some parents and students sang one of the songs anyway, saying the court order infringed upon their personal freedoms, an act that captured national media attention and stirred conflict in the state's religious communities.
While most of the people in attendance were supportive of Bauchman, others worried the pending lawsuit will infringe on Torgerson's academic and personal freedoms.
"No directives have been given anyone, except to follow state law and state regulation," said school board attorney John Robson.
Robson and Deputy Assistant General Dan Larsen, who represents the school district in the lawsuit, updated parents about the pending litigation, which alleges Rachel Bauchman's First Amendment rights were violated by events that occurred at the school.
Robson said the only matter decided in the case was the temporary restraining order granted by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that banned the performance of two songs at the school's high school graduation. The songs have been termed "devotional" by Bauchman's attorney
The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Bauchman's lawsuit. A hearing on the motion will be heard before U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene on Aug. 28.
Brent Asay, chairman of the West's school community council, reminded parents to keep best interest of the children in mind as they, too, sort through the issues.
"I think it's more important to ask ourselves as parents what we're going to do," Asay said.