NPS isn’t off the hook for the graffiti incident

Jun. 19—Even though Richard Cavett broke the law, the reasons that prompted him to do it should lead to thorough, honest self-examination — and then, action — at Norman Public Schools.

The NPS school board voted to fire Cavett Friday for leaking photos of racist and threatening graffiti to a parent and a teacher in February. The graffiti called specific students racial slurs and derogatory names, degraded Black History Month and Black Lives Matter with expletives and also read, “Shooting up this damn place 2/28/2022.” It reappeared Feb. 18 and 22, after the district quickly painted over the original writing.

Cavett leaked the photos to a parent that day to get them out to local media and tell other parents about the issue.

In a 4-1 vote at the end of a 14-hour hearing, the board voted to fire Cavett on grounds that he violated school policy, FERPA, his contract and state education law with his actions. They also found he repeatedly lied to the school district when asked multiple times about the graffiti and actions.

While Cavett may very well have broken the law and song, the reasons shared at his hearing Friday for leaking the photos — and NPS’ response — paint a damning picture of what the district holds as its priorities.

Any school district where a teacher feels compelled to break the law and school policy in an effort to protect students is one that needs to immediately examine and fix any possible issues that prompted the teacher to do it.

In his hearing, Cavett said he didn’t trust NPS “to not bury” the graffiti. We can’t know in hindsight whether the district would be transparent, but the fact that school officials told students there was no credible threat when Norman police said they couldn’t confirm that statement raises serious questions as to whether NPS would have handled it responsibly .

School resource officers, the on-site police at NHS, also confirmed that the district painted over the Feb. 17 graffiti before police could see it themselves.

Recent national news events should make anyone feel uncomfortable about this haphazard response from the district. In the months since the graffiti was covered up, gunmen shot up a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in a mass hate crime and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. And there have been enough racist and school shootings in the past — Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and Emanuel African Methodist Church, to name a few in recent memory — for the district to swiftly respond and not let things go back to normal until they and NPD could confidently say there was no threat.

But when NPS found out the graffiti had been leaked, they instead released a good-sounding statement to parents that NPD couldn’t confirm. Does that sound like a school district more concerned about the safety of its students and workers, or about saving face?

If that wasn’t enough, Cavett also alleged that in the past, sexual assault, chronic bullying and vandalism at NHS weren’t communicated to parents in a way that reflected their seriousness or endemic nature. He shared that his fear of retaliation is felt by other teachers in his own school, at the very least.

The school district needs to admit there may be some legitimacy behind Cavett’s claims. The worst thing that could happen is they find out his claims are false, and at that point, they will have thoroughly checked their safety and communication standards and identified anything that needs to be fixed.

But if they find out he’s right, it gives NPS the opportunity to come correct with its students, their parents and its employees — first by admitting they were wrong, and then by fixing the problem areas.

No school district is perfect, and no reasonable person should expect NPS to be. But any parent, student or employee who relies on the school district to maintain a safe learning environment should fully expect the district to own its mistakes. It’s what will move it as close to perfection as it can get.

Before the board fired Cavett, President Cindy Nashert said they take seriously the concerns about student safety and fears of retaliation that rose from the incident. We hope they mean it, and show it by honestly examining the district’s shortcomings and acting accordingly.

Because at the end of the day, students’ lives may depend on it.

The Transcript Editorial Board is comprised of Editor Emma Keith and News Editor Max Bryan. For comments or questions, email editor@normantranscript.com.

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