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Eastern Carver County responds to equity petition

Thursday, the district responded saying it doesn't have a specific anti-racism policy.

CHASKA, Minn — In Eastern Carver County, there are two petitions circulating.

One to remove high school principal, Jim Bach and the other, to keep him.

But ROAR, the grassroots group asking for his removal following a long list of incidents linked to racism want more. ROAR stands for residents organizing against racism. In May, ROAR created a petition calling for the district to address issues surrounding racism, requesting trauma counseling, implicit bias training for staff, updated curriculum to reflect all history and equity in the school district. It also demands equity and inclusion placed as permanent item on all regular school board meeting agendas, ongoing and well-communicated public forums allowing community members to ask district leadership questions and receive candid answers plus measured, documented and publicly announced results, findings and plans.

See the ROAR petition here

Thursday, the district responded saying it doesn't have a specific anti-racism policy.

Members of ROAR, including Tonya Coleman, said some of the promises outlined in the response are promising. For example, the district says it will update its racially and ethnically informed curricula. The response says the district has “engaged Dr. Muhammad Khalifa of the University of Minnesota to lead an equity audit.” That audit will focus on gaps in policies and practices, and curriculum needs.

“We are committed to addressing what we’re missing in the classroom and taking a hard look at what we’re teaching to make sure we’re not just telling one part of the story,” the response states.

Coleman sits on the newly formed Equity Advisory Council.

“To see in this petition, we want to mandate that black history be taught in the curriculum at all levels, from K-12 they should get that. Because that is history,” Tonya Coleman said. “If you are raising and teaching children who are empathetic to other peoples lived experiences and they understand the contributions that African Americans have made in this country and where we fit. Perhaps they would've had a different lens and would have not felt as comfortable to write the N word on somebody's shirt.”

Coleman said her youngest is in first grade and has a daughter at the high school. But she and other parents want to make the district safe for all.

“Chaska is getting a bad rap for these things happening here. I want people to know it is not reflective of Chaska as a whole and there are really good people who live here and want to see change made and are willing to do that even though they don't have kids in this district,” Coleman said.”

Their frustration was prompted by multiple racist incidents in Eastern Carver County Schools. One, a middle school student discovered the N word scribbled on the front and back of his shirt in December. In April, two white students placed faces of black students on a Google map and labeled it negro Hill. And students were accused of wearing blackface at a football game. Someone wearing blackface was printed in this year’s yearbook.
Members of the yearbook alumni removed the pages. Then, the books were distributed in May.

Meanwhile, here is the complete response from Eastern Carver County Schools.

Eastern Carver County Schools is committed to being a school district where every student feels safe, welcome, and valued, and has access to the tools and resources they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond. Our work to develop and support equity, inclusion, and diversity in every building in our district is foundational to that success. This is the right work to be doing, and we will continue to invest in making our district stronger for the benefit of all of our students.

With regard to the parent petition circulating:

Measurable Accountability to Concerns

Equity updates are now a recurring item on the board agenda and a chance to track and report out progress as well as be held accountable in a public setting for that work. Information provided in those updates, as well as additional information about the work being done around equity and inclusion, is housed on the district’s equity webpage. As work with the Vision and Framework proceeds, associated action plans, updates, metrics, and outcomes, will also be part of that page so that members of our community can track the work and provide feedback as we move forward together.

A town hall is being planned for June, as well as additional, ongoing opportunities for both targeted and broad community engagement to make sure we are supporting all voices in the community with the opportunity to be heard. While this work is the district’s, it cannot succeed without engaging our community as partners.

The district will produce an annual equity report that tracks progress and reports outcomes as we establish goals and metrics from which we can be held accountable.

Restructure Equity Leadership and Advisory Groups

Community engagement and participation in district advisory groups is critical to supporting our district’s success. An equity and inclusion lens should be embedded in every aspect of our work.

The district has established an Equity Advisory Council, which will advise and inform leadership related to prioritization of work around equity and inclusion within the district, community engagement, and more.

Applicants not selected for the EAC will be shared with building leadership as well as district staff who have advisory councils and groups and every attempt will be made to increase representation of parents, staff, and community members representing all marginalized groups within our schools.

The district is also in the process of recruiting and interviewing for a new, Cabinet-level Director of Equity and Inclusion position.

Zero-Tolerance Anti-Racism Policy and Protocols
While zero tolerance policies seem reasonable, especially in this context, they can have unintended consequences. Under a zero-tolerance policy, there is no room for considering age, context, or circumstances of behavior. An elementary school student who uses language they don’t understand, and may have heard elsewhere, faces the same consequence as a high school student who uses racist language in a hateful manner with intent to harm.

While the district does not have a specific anti-racism policy, the district does address race, ethnicity, color, national origin, and other protected classes in its discipline, bullying, and harassment and violence policies. Eastern Carver County Schools does not condone or tolerate harassment; violence; discrimination; bullying; or any intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harmful conduct based on race, ethnicity, color, or national origin within the school district. Instead of a zero-tolerance policy, the district practices a no-tolerance policy. Those who bully, harass, discriminate, threaten, etc. based on race face significant consequences. Those consequences include in-school suspension, out of school suspension, and the possibility of expulsion.

The district’s approach allows for consideration of each individual situation before determining appropriate remediation, learning, and/or consequence. That does not mean that we condone racist behavior, or that those engage in it do not face disciplinary action. We take these actions very seriously and teach, re-mediate, and discipline accordingly. We are actively working with building leadership at all levels to ensure consistent responses to these situations district-wide.

Trauma-Focused, Victim-Centered Support Protocols
We take the health and safety of our students very seriously. In response to the need at Chaska High School, we put in place additional trauma resources including social workers available throughout the week. We recognize that additional supports are needed district-wide and not just at Chaska High School.

The district is piloting “Trauma-Informed Training” with Mark Sander, PsyD, LP, Senior Psychologist at Hennepin County and Director of School Mental Health for Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public Schools, at our Integrated Arts Academy during the 19-20 school year. Based on results and feedback from the pilot, the district will determine expanding to other buildings.

We are increasing co-located therapy supports next school year; every building will be covered by a mental health practitioner. We are increasing our collaboration with a Minnetonka-based counseling service that will allow us to have an additional full-time therapist in our schools. As a result, our therapists contracted through Carver County will also be able to increase their supports of our students.

We will also work with all of our counselors district-wide over the summer to make sure clear processes and practices are in place to make sure students have access to the resources they need to be safe and supported.

Students and parents who do not feel comfortable or able to report concerns to building administrators can address them and/or file a complaint with the following district staff:

The district will make this information available in Spanish and Somali so that everyone in our community has access to this reporting mechanism.

Updated Racially- & Ethnically-Informed Curricula
The district has engaged Dr. Muhammad Khalifa of the University of Minnesota to lead an equity audit. While part of that audit will focus on gaps in policies and practices, a key, and critical, result of the work will be to directly inform where the district focuses professional development and curriculum needs. We are committed to addressing what we’re missing in the classroom, and taking a hard look at what we’re teaching to make sure we’re not just telling one part of the story. This includes making sure our schools have the tools and resources to celebrate the diverse cultures that make up our district as part of school-wide and classroom equity work. There will be additional, focused professional development and training of both administrative/building leaders and teachers to ensure they have tools and resources available to facilitate conversations about race, equity, and inclusion within their classrooms.

Change Chaska High School Leadership

We have heard from concerned citizens on both sides of this issue, and while we recognize this is frustrating and not a satisfying answer, by law we cannot discuss personnel issues. We are committed to focused and intentional professional development to set specific goals and support our expectations of the equity and inclusion work of all building leadership.

Proportionally Representative Faculty and Admin Staff

Recruitment and retention of teachers, administrators, and other staff of color will result in positive impacts in every part of our district, and most importantly benefit our students, which is the reason why we’re here. Representation matters, and this is a high priority for our district.

Specific to recruitment, the district is broadening its outreach and posting positions on websites targeting diverse candidates and reaching out to job boards at historically diverse colleges and universities. Those outreach efforts include making connections with students still in teaching programs and talking directly to potential staff of color at job fairs.

The district is also working on the retention of staff of color. Human Resources and the teacher’s union are working together to meet in small groups with staff to identify district strengths and weaknesses and tap into their personal networks to assist in recruitment.

The district is also looking at “Grow Your Own” models. Our specialized services department is leading the way here, part of the Southwest Metro Intermediate District Work and Learn program. Through this program, targeted specifically to those from underrepresented backgrounds, teachers or paraprofessionals with bachelor’s degrees can earn a Minnesota teaching license and a master’s degree in two years.

Monthly Updates Provided Publicly and Prominently

As stated under the first item, we are committed to regular updates and communication around these issues. The district has acknowledged that proactive, transparent communications has been lacking in the past, and is committed to continuing to improve. Ensuring the best results for our students requires dialogue, regular communication, and strong partnerships between the districts, parents, and the community.

At the May Board meeting, parents who attended identified three specific priorities: trauma counseling, addressing personnel issues at Chaska High School, and implicit bias training for staff. The first two points have been addressed within the petition response. Regarding staff training, our leadership will be doing focused work with Dr. Khalifa as part of the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Institute this summer, and additional equity training and professional development for all staff based on his recommendation. We are also currently evaluating different options for mandatory implicit bias training for our staff that can be accomplished over the summer.

To reiterate: Eastern Carver County Schools is committed to being a school district where every student feels safe, welcome, and valued, and has access to the tools and resources they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond. Every student. Our investment in this work is real, it is long-term, and it is central to our mission and our commitment to the kids that walk our halls and learn in our classrooms every day.

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