Schoolhouse lessons confront small-town racism

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Dayton is a picturesque little burg tucked in the southeastern corner of Washington state. With just over 1,000 families, it is 93 percent white.

When racist incidents began last fall, one after another, the community became nervous. No one was more unsettled than Dayton School District Superintendent Douglas Johnson. The people on his campuses were directly affected by the threat.

Early one morning last November, just as students were settling into the routine of a new academic year, a teacher found a swastika burning on the grass outside Dayton Elementary School. That came a week after Halloween, when  another teacher, who is African American, had three trick-or-treaters come to his door dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan. At least one was a student in Johnson’s district.

Then, less than three weeks later, someone posted a threatening note at the entry to Dayton High, forcing a two-hour delay in school. The threat added to the fear that was building in Dayton.

Johnson knew he had to address the racism and help his students explore issues of diversity.

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