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In Kentucky, Covington Catholic High School Reopens After Threats


Students at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were back in class today. The school has become the center of a national uproar over a viral social media video that showed a group of students wearing Make America Great Again hats apparently staring down a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial.

The students had traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the anti-abortion March for Life rally when they encountered Nathan Phillips. The teen featured most prominently in the video, junior Nick Sandmann, appeared on NBC's "Today" show with his take.


NICK SANDMANN: My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I'd like to talk to him. I mean, in hindsight, I wish we could've walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can't say that I'm sorry for listening to him and standing there.

CORNISH: NPR's Sarah McCammon has been talking to residents in Covington, Ky. She joins us from there now. And, Sarah, what's the mood like in that community now?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, this incident really is on people's minds. And things are starting to get back to normal to a certain extent with schools reopening, but there was a police presence there when I drove by this morning. People are concerned, they tell me, about the safety of these kids and also about how this reflects on the community.

I stopped at a coffee shop just down the street from the school, and I met Karisa Moore.

KARISA MOORE: I feel for the boys because I don't think that they went with the intent of this transpiring. And it's put them in the public eye, and it's put the school in the public eye. However, I always see that these are opportunities. These are opportunities to talk to people, to connect, to think differently.

MCCAMMON: Moore said she's been praying for everyone involved. And several people I talked to here said they didn't want to voice their opinions publicly, but they had very strong feelings. And they said it's just very sensitive. A couple people said they didn't want to go on mic with me because they were worried about their job security if they speak too freely. It's a very emotional issue here.

And when I asked people how they felt, I heard words like sad and embarrassed.

CORNISH: There are so many interpretations, especially on social media and the commentary about what happened and what it means. How are people there making sense of it?

MCCAMMON: Lots of different ways, and it seems to come down, like it does for much of the rest of the country, to personal experience, personal point of view. Again, I heard a lot of concern about the boys - about well-being, but also about how the adults here were doing their jobs, whether they were to mentor them and teach the kids about diversity.

I spoke to Tracy Siegman, pastor at First Christian Church of Covington, and she says this has come up in her knitting circle.

TRACY SIEGMAN: We all received the talk when we went out on a school trip that we should be mindful that we're representing our school and our community. And their behavior does not reflect well on their school or our community.

MCCAMMON: She says she's been thinking about how to talk to her congregation about this. And she says if this happened at her church, she'd want to see a long-term series of conversations about what happened and what it means.

CORNISH: Has there been any effort to get any kind of big public conversation going locally about this?

MCCAMMON: Well, there was a small rally yesterday hosted by a local Native American group. NPR member station WVXU was there and spoke to Guy Jones of Dayton, Ohio. He says things need to change in this country.

GUY JONES: We as a people have to go and put a stop to it. You've got all these young kids who are saying, let's make America great. Well, yeah, let's do that. And let's stop the hate.

MCCAMMON: On a much larger scale, the White House has said that President Trump might consider meeting with the boys after the shutdown is over. And separately, there's been talk about the boys meeting with Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder. So we'll see where those discussions go in the days to come.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. She spoke to us from Covington, Ky. Sarah, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.