Recruiter uses gay slur at high school during testing

Recruiter uses slur at high school
DHS students offended by comment

Herald Staff Writer
November 04, 2009

An Army recruiter used a gay slur and an expletive during military-supervised testing at Durango High School last week, an incident that has raised parents' ire.

DHS students who overheard the comment confronted the man, whose identity was not released, and notified school personnel.

Juniors and seniors were required to attend a testing session Thursday that was overseen by recruiters from the U.S. Army Denver Recruiting Battalion, or to do an alternative project as part of a career day. More than 500 students took the test.

During the military aptitude test, several students overheard the soldier use the expletive and gay slur.

Lt. Col. William Medina, a spokesman for the Army's Denver Recruiting Battalion, said Tuesday he was conducting an internal investigation into the comment.

"The information I have at this point was the soldier who made it was talking to one of his fellow soldiers in the back of the room," Medina said. "The comment was overheard by several of the students.

The comment, although inappropriate, was not directed to the students or staff there." Medina said the remark "is absolutely inappropriate and not in keeping with Army values." Medina has apologized to DHS Principal Diane Lashinsky.

"I would like to apologize for that lack of professionalism," Medina said. "It really did not reflect well on the organization, nor does it reflect the support we get from the Durango community." Medina would not identify the soldier, but said he is a noncommissioned officer in the Denver Recruiting Battalion.

The comment happened in the school's cafeteria while students were taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, known as ASVAB. The multiple-choice test gauges students' aptitude for various careers. The test was overseen by about 10 military personnel, students said.

Lashinsky said at least 30 DHS teachers also were present.

Seniors Madeleine Meigs and Anna Rousseau were among the students who heard the comment. They confronted the soldier and reported the comment to school counselor Sarah St. John, who notified Lashinsky.

"I just thought that it was wrong, and I feel people in that position can kind of get away with stuff sometimes, and that's not OK," said Meigs, who is the daughter of Durango Mayor Leigh Meigs.

Rousseau said she wanted only to make the soldier know he was being distasteful. "When my friend and I went and talked to this guy, I just wanted to let him be aware that he was offending someone," Rousseau said. "I really didn't mean to start all this publicity, and I didn't mean to get him in trouble." Rousseau said school counselors and administrators were "furious" about the comment.

"I was really proud of the way our school handled it," she said.

Lashinsky said the students who reported the remark "did exactly what they were supposed to do." "The comment is completely inappropriate," Lashinsky said. "It's inappropriate to speak that way in a public forum, whether you're in a school or anywhere else. It's especially egregious to be speaking that way within hearing distance of young people." Parents complained they were not adequately notified of the ASVAB test or their ability to exclude their children. Rather, they said, it was up to the students to bring it to their parents' attention.

A notification of the test was posted on DHS' Web site several days before, Lashinsky said. Students also were notified during their advisory periods. But parents were not sent a mailing.

Leigh Meigs said she was upset military personnel were given access to her daughter.

"We as a family always opt out of having our children's identifying information given to recruiters," she said. "And yet, military personnel were allowed to have my child's mandatory attention." Lashinsky said the military would not have access to the testing information for students who opted out. She defended the school's decision to offer the ASVAB test, saying it gives students valuable insight into their aptitudes for various careers.

"It really helps students to know what they have the aptitude for relative to what their interests are," she said. "That's a unique test." Students get a comprehensive profile back that can help guide them in career choices, Lashinsky said.

For DHS students, who routinely take standardized multiple-choice tests, the exam itself was not unusual.

"It felt like a normal test that we would take at school, but it was weird to have the military running it," Madeleine Meigs said. "It all seemed kind of strange, and to me, kind of wrong." Kelly Fuge, an 18-year-old senior, said the military personnel were careful not to make recruiting pitches during the test.

Jim Fuge, Kelly's father, said it was not appropriate for students to be put under the supervision of military personnel.

"It's just not the way to operate," he said, adding that he had no problem with students being able to go talk with recruiters at their offices.

Leigh Meigs said the situation should never have happened.

"I am very proud of my daughter that she handled this the way she did, and I do not think it was fair that she was put in this position."

chuck at durangoherald dot com