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Advocacy groups plan forum in response to Dietrich case

Dietrich School

The outside of Dietrich School is pictured in April 2013.

BOISE — Advocacy organizations will hold a forum Tuesday night in Boise in response to the Dietrich High School locker room case.

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Melissa Wintrow will facilitate the event from 7-9 p.m. at the Linden Building, 1402 W. Grove St. in Boise.

The effort is organized by the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, Idaho State Independent Living Council, DisAbility Rights Idaho, Idaho Parents Unlimited, Idaho Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and ACLU of Idaho.

They’re planning regional conversations “to invite community members to share the direct or indirect impact of discrimination, hate, and violence in Idaho,” according to a statement Monday.

The Dietrich case was the driving factor behind the effort, said Kelly Miller, executive director of Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.

“Certainly given the horrific circumstances of the national and international attention the press gave this case, all of that is definitely a catalyst for these conversations,” Miller told the Times-News.

But organizers also know other instances of discrimination, hate and violence happen at schools across Idaho, Miller said. “We wanted to make sure the forum was broad enough to hold it all.”

There isn’t a schedule yet of dates and locations for other Idaho forums.

The effort is designed to “help foster communities and schools where everyone feels safe, valued and able to thrive,” according to a statement from organizers.

The Dietrich School District came under fire for an October 2015 attack in a football locker room, where white players were accused of targeting a black, mentally disabled teammate.

Both an attorney general’s investigation and superintendent Ben Hardcastle’s own investigating showed a culture of bullying and possible racism that was widespread on the football team.

The case sparked national outrage, especially after 19-year-old John R.K Howard, the only person charged criminally as an adult in the case, was sentenced to probation in February. Witnesses said Howard kicked a coat hanger into the victim’s buttocks.

“In recent months, these organizations have seen an increase in calls related to the Dietrich case as well as other acts of discrimination and violence,” according to the statement. “They view this moment as a catalyst for meaningful change.”

During Tuesday night’s forum, organizers will collect stories about the personal impact of discrimination, bullying, harassment and violence, plus stories of resilience and community support.

Stories will be shared with government and community stakeholders to help identify ways schools and communities can improve safety and show value toward everyone.

The Idaho’s Office of the Attorney General and Idaho Department of Education are also supporting the new initiative.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, whose office prosecuted the Dietrich case, said in the statement he pledges to work with organizers to identify solutions.

“I applaud the effort to bring stakeholders together for these important conversations,” Wasden said. “I’m looking forward to sitting down with these groups in the coming months and I’m optimistic that together we can accomplish meaningful change.”

The initiative will include a focus on schools. Organizers hope to include teachers, administrators, coaches and parents.

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