Robed student incident captures national attention

RIVERTON — Two male students were removed from Riverton High School on Wednesday after they entered the building wearing white robes resembling Ku Klux Klan attire. 

Officials said the students were not in school Thursday, either, and “disciplinary actions have been taken” against them.

A photograph of the students was circulated on social media Wednesday, showing one walking in front of the other through a doorway. 

The student in front is wearing a white robe, with a white, pointed hood on his head. He has a large cross around his neck and an American flag in his hand.

Behind him, another student is pictured wearing white clothing and what appears to be a white hat. 

Both are smiling broadly. 

Snyder said other students quickly reported the incident to administrators, who called the boys out of class and began an “investigation.” 

At that point, Snyder said, the first boy was no longer wearing his pointed hood, and the students told administrators “it was just a monk outfit.” 

But then staff members saw the photo of the students’ entrance to the school.

“The fact that they had the hood up … changed our interpretation of what their attire was,” Snyder said.

“We interpreted it to be KKK representation, and that’s how we dealt with it.”

The students were sent home “right away,” Snyder said, but he could not discuss the details of the disciplinary action that will be taken against them. 

Wednesday’s mishap attracted attention from national media outlets like CNN, NBC and the Washington Post.

“It’s unfortunate,” Snyder said. “We have so many good kids, and we have so many positive things we work on – good things kids do. Then you have a couple kids do this.”

RHS principal John Griffith pointed to a powwow organized earlier this month by a group of students working to recognize cultural differences and celebrate diversity in the community.

“(That) was a high point of our school year … and then this happens,” he said Thursday. “They’re feeling like, ‘I wish our powwow would’ve gotten shared with the New York Times and the Washington Post.’”

Griffith had just come out of a meeting with members of that student group, and he said they were feeling “hurt … sad and angry.”

“It’s really affected them,” he said.

Once finals are over this week, Griffith plans to promote the diversity work the students have done this year. On Thursday, though, he said “we’re trying to go about our day as normal.”

Finals week – the last week of the semester – features themed costume days for RHS students, who are invited to dress up in accordance with a different theme each day.

Wednesday, when the two students wore their robes to school, was “white out” day.

“It’s the same type of theme that the University of Wyoming had for one of their football games,” Snyder said. “And our colors are red and white. … That was the connection to the spirit day.”

He added, however,  the KKK attire the two students donned Wednesday “had nothing to do with school spirit.

“We work really hard to train our students in … respect, tolerance and understanding – whether it’s a racial issue, a gay-straight issue, a political opinions issue,” Snyder said. “That’s what makes this type of behavior so disheartening. … We have, obviously, work yet to do.”