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Murray Journal

Murray community shows support for Viewmont, Parkside students after attacks

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● By Julie Slama

Hundreds turned out to “Walk Mateus Home” after the 11-year-old boy had “racial slurs and hateful remarks” called to him earlier in the month. (Jamie Cheney/Murray resident)

In early October, 11-year-old Mateus Romualdo left Viewmont Elementary after school in what was expected to be a normal routine walk home.

Instead, his principal Matt Nelson said he endured racial slurs and hateful remarks that scared him. 

His mother, Heather, wasn’t frightened. Instead, with members of the community, she organized the “Walk Mateus Home” event, which had a large outpouring of support — from neighbors and friends to the former Utah Jazz center Thurl Bailey and the Jazz Bear — to accompany him one mile to a park nearby his home, Nelson said.

“Together, we can stand up and rally together to show our acceptance and support for our students,” Nelson said. “At our (school) Eagle rallies, we talk about intolerance and racism and the need for inclusion. It’s our differences that make us stronger. We need to embrace them.”

Nelson estimated about 250 people rallied behind Mateus after a Facebook page was created which encouraged “an opportunity for all of those that are interested and able to visibly demonstrate their solidarity and support of Mateus and all of the other children who should be able to safely walk home from school, and our ABSOLUTE intolerance of racism. This is not a rally, nor a forum for heated debate - this is an opportunity to bring more love and acceptance to our community.”

Earlier that day, Nelson spoke to his students.

“I just told them that something happened to a student just because of the color of his skin. I kept it simple so a first-grader would be able to hear it and learn that what happened wasn’t right,” he said, adding that students also learned to respect one another from a recent martial arts assembly.

While parents received a more detailed message on the school communication app, he said the effort initiated by Romualdo and the community hasn’t slowed.

On Halloween, an older Parkside Elementary student was “pounced upon and beat up in what seemed like a gang attack,” said Murray School District spokeswoman D Wright. While the route to the student’s home takes the student through Murray Park, school faculty and staff realized they can do more. Starting Nov. 6, school officials and friends walked with students through Murray Park ensuring safe passage.

“We want to encourage safety and prevent any further injury and trauma to our students,” Wright said. “It’s concerning and we don’t want to turn a blind eye.”

Wright said that in this case, the attacker(s) are enrolled at Hillcrest Junior High and Murray Police, the school resource officer, the principal and student advocate are all involved reviewing the attack.

At Viewmont, Police Chief Craig Burnett said those who yelled racial slurs are Murray High students.

“It’s under investigation, but the kids have been identified,” he said. “It’s not right. It’s mean and terrible what was said and how it was said, but it’s impressive that the school, neighbors, friends and our community came together to support this student. It was a great how quickly it came together to show support.”

Burnett also said officers in the area will patrol the area to ensure safety and the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program will continue in schools.

Murray High Principal Scott Wihongi said that he had not been included on conversations regarding his students, but was genuinely surprised.

“I’m quite shocked as we have a diverse population in our school,” he said. “I hope this is an isolated incident where they used very unfortunate, poor judgment.”

Wihongi said that the school’s Peer Leadership Team has ongoing public service announcements on bullying and posters throughout the school.

District Director of Student Services Director Darren Dean said the district continues to work on the issue of bullying at each of the schools. 

“The Murray City School District certainly believes that all of our students should be provided a bully-free environment all the way to and from school and of course, while they are at school,” he said. “It was great to see the Murray community step up against bullies.”

This year, Murray School District recently received a three-year Utah State Office of Education gang prevention and intervention grant to place student advocates in each of the secondary schools and one is shared throughout the elementary schools. 

The student advocates, who are from the Unified Police Department and trained in gang signs and affiliation, will work with high-risk students to help and support them in improving behavior, attendance and academic and life skills. They also will use the “Choose Gang Free” curriculum in the classrooms.

At Viewmont, Nelson said the school counselor provides services for students, but he wants to do more. Already he’s motivated and looking into ways to teach tolerance.

“We need to be more proactive, not just be reactionary,” he said. “We need to have an accepting culture in our school, on our playground, in our classroom. I’m looking at resources how to teach tolerance. We need to teach it head on — what it is, why we need it, why it’s wrong to say certain things, go over stereotyping and try to get our students more aware and courageous to call out others who put people down and come get adults to step up and help.”