3 Alta High students cited in unlawful acts at school amid racial controversy

Published: Friday, April 1 2011 9:42 a.m. MDT

SANDY — Three Alta High School students were issued misdemeanor citations Thursday following an investigation into alleged racial incidents at the school.

The charges came on the same day that the Alta High Principal Mont Widerberg announced his early retirement.

Controversy has swirled around the school this week since Widerberg was placed on unpaid leave in the wake of a Canyons School District investigation into an incident of a student wearing a white pillowcase on his head that resembled a Ku Klux Klan hood during a recent spirit assembly.

The three students were cited Thursday in connection with that incident for unlawful acts in school, all class B misdemeanors. Two of the students were cited for allegedly sending text pictures of burning crosses on their phones, according to officials. Police would not confirm whether the student who wore the pillowcase was one of the three.

There was also reportedly verbiage that went along with the pictures, but neither police nor the school district could confirm or comment on that Friday.

The students were issued citations to appear in juvenile court at a later time. They were not taken into custody.

The texts were not sent from white students to black students and were not believed to be racially motivated, said Sandy Police Sgt. Troy Arnold, which is why police do not believe the incidents rise to the level of a hate crime.

"That's why they were charged with unlawful activity," he said. "For these specific types of incidents, it may not be elevated to the level of hate crime. It has caused a disruption in school. Because it took place in school, under the law it's a criminal act."

The key to the charges is that the incidents allegedly took place on school property. If the students were at home on summer vacation and texted the same images to each other, they would not have been issued the citations that they were, Arnold said.

The investigation into how widely the image (or images) was shared was ongoing Friday, but Arnold said he did not anticipate any more students being cited.

The students may face, or already have faced, action from the Canyons School District separate from their potential penalties in juvenile court, he said.

Sandy police have had an increased presence at Alta High School all week. Arnold said they would be back at the school on Friday. He noted that police were at the school based on a request from the Canyons School District, which was paying for the officers' shifts at the school.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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