Every day, Sheena Ford passes her school's announcement marquee alerting her and other North Layton Junior High students of the upcoming wrestling meet or school assembly.
One of the school's several black students, Ford was welcomed to class one January morning with racism.The marquee's friendly message "Smile Bigger" had been changed into something ugly when someone replaced the "B" in Bigger with an "N."
"I had to talk my mom out of going into the school herself right then," recalled Ford.
No one knows who changed the marquee posting or whether it was even a student at the school. But Ogden's black leaders say the message seemed to prompt a series of recent racial slurs and comments directed at black students.
"That incident was one more log on the fire to things already going on at the school," said Betty Sawyer, president of Ogden's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
But other students say charges of racism are being blown out of proportion by people outside the school.
"There wasn't a problem until things were stirred up by the media and parents," said student Tiffany Peck.
Brandy Durk, an Asian-American student, admits some name calling occurs, "but it's like that at all schools; it's no different."
Sawyer met Tuesday with school principal John Zurbuchen and administrators from the Davis County School District to discuss recent concerns.
Her message: "We must go beyond sensitivity for diversity; we must value diversity," she said.
Sawyer said she's working with school officials to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to develop diversity training while promoting diversity in the district's work force.
She added she was pleased with Tuesday's meeting, saying North Layton Junior High was no different than other schools or communities having to battle racism.
"If these things are happening at school, you best believe they're happening somewhere else," Sawyer said.
Zurbuchen said the school already has an equity committee made up of teachers and parents and is organizing bias identification training for teachers.
"What today's (meeting) does is up the ante, it heightens the awareness," Zurbuchen said.
David Doty, the district's civil rights compliance officer, said he was baffled by Tuesday's public display of dissatisfaction.
"We have not received any formal complaints" from North Layton parents or students, he said.
Doty added the district has the state's most comprehensive and aggressive anti-harassment and safe school policy, saying there are serious consequences for any form of harassment.
The State Board of Education last week approved "Principles for Equity in Utah's Public Schools," a guide for school districts in implementing staff inservice training on diversity issues.
The 12-page document, now being printed and bound, is to be available to districts by the April 13 regional equity conference. The document was drafted by the State Office of Education and the Coalition of Minority Advisory Councils.
State Associate Superintendent Steve Laing says the document could be useful in staving off incidents such as those alleged at North Layton.
"It certainly exemplifies the need for something like this," Laing said. "They could use that document in training and response to those complaints and help individuals at the school perhaps take a look at what they're doing or not doing that could be adjusted to be more accepting of diversity and promote equity for all students."