NEVADA — Tensions were high during Monday’s Nevada school board meeting when Superintendent Steve Gray responded to a public comment made at the Feb. 17 meeting regarding alleged racism in the school district.

“I was hoping to start a conversation about increasing cultural competency among students, teachers and parents of the district,” Nevada PTO president Kim Stephens said on Tuesday. “That’s all I wanted.”

The district conducted an investigation into four instances which were brought forward by Stephens to during the previous school board meeting, Gray said during a 15-minute-long, slide-show presentation.

“Based on the information and concerns presented to the board on Feb. 17, I cannot validate the implication that racism is a wide-spread or growing problem in Nevada schools, nor the allegation that students engaging in such activity go without repercussions from the adults around them,” Gray said.

According to Gray, the district investigated and addressed the following instances:

First instance: A photo showcasing a Nevada student, who is identified as being a minority, alongside a student from a separate district, who is displaying a hand gesture thought to be racist.

When notified, the district took the photo off its Facebook page, identified the student who made the gesture, and notified the student’s school district of the incident who later interviewed him, Gray said.

The student told his school district he was celebrating the third place win in a wrestling match, Gray said, and the district believed the student.

“A photo of a student from another school district and at another school district location does not represent Nevada schools,” Gray said. “The gesture could not be expected to be noticed by the Nevada photographer attempting to celebrate the accomplishments of the Nevada athlete.”

Second instance: A student coerced a special-needs student to use a racial slur towards a black student.

“This happened on Jan. 24 where there was a student altercation involving a racial comment,” Gray said. “The middle school administration intervened immediately, police officers and parents of the three students were contacted, disciplinary consequences were administered for the three students involved.”

Third instance: Students participating in “The Vinegar Game,” where students try to get each other to say a racial slur by asking them to finish the word, “Vinegar.”

The game was unknown to the district and not reported during the time of the public comment, Gray said. Following the comment, the district had a follow-up conversation with Stephens and the individual who attended the meeting with her, Gray said, where they found Stephen’s source of information was a comment from the middle school child of the attendant.

“Contacted the following day by middle school administration as to why she did not report the single event, Stephens indicated that she needed to build her case,” Gray said. “Three days later, Mrs. Stephens reported that her elementary child was also approached with ‘The Vinegar Game.’”

Both instances were investigated, the middle school student denied ever participating but admitted to hearing it. The elementary child, age 7, admitted to saying the word, “but cried, indicating that he or she did not know what it meant,” Gray said.

“Further investigation among students and staff indicates no knowledge of this game happening in our school system,” Gray said.

Fourth instance: Stephens asked for more transparency from the school district in addressing racial-concerns for students and staff, Gray said.

Gray estimated up to 75 hours were spent looking into the four instances presented to the school board.

“This is a very uncomfortable, hard conversation to have and I think everyone in the room is feeling stressed and on-edge, and they should be because we want to tackle any racist issue and we want to tackle any negative component to our schools, and that’s why we hired you,” Nevada school board President Tori Carsrud said.

Board member Marty Chitty expressed frustration for the handling of the investigation by administration.

“That was an administrative-snide-(punt), if you watch that, there was no there-there,” Chitty said. “I don’t appreciate all of those hours expended in a non-educational manner; they were compensated hours, (and) tax-payers of the district have to make the school whole, and if you’re not educating your students — what’s the point.

“The term, ‘gas-lighting,’ comes to my mind; this did not merit the time expended.”

Gray did not respond to Chitty’s remarks.

Following Chitty’s comments, Stephens apologized to the board.

“I am only interested in one thing, and that is having a better community,” Stephens said during Monday’s meeting. “I apologize for wasting everybody’s time; that wasn’t my intention, it was never my intention … I greatly apologize for the time everyone spent on this, I did not expect that it would waste that much time, so I’m sorry.”