While District 112 officials have initiated discussions on how schools can have more inclusive environments, Chaska High School students brought forward another incident of race-based bullying.
Equity and tolerance have come to the forefront of district conversations after several racial incidents at local schools. The most recent one included the faces of African-American students in Chaska on a Google Maps-like background with the location bar stating “Negro Hill.”
Daneyah Hughes, a sophomore at Chaska High School, who brought it up during a recent forum, said the image had been floating around social media for weeks.
Hughes said a big problem is people post thoughts and ideas that they would never directly tell someone in a conversation.
“People aren’t as bold in real life,” she said.
Following the forum, the district issued a statement that administrators had begun an investigation.
“Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our students, so the focus was on reaching out to those individuals and their families personally to let them know what had occurred and make sure they had the support and resources they needed,” it stated.
The students responsible “faced significant consequences,” according to the statement, which later noted the district would not discuss any specifics due to student privacy laws.
“The district’s investment in equity and inclusion work has accelerated in the past several months. That work continues, both district-wide and targeted within the Chaska High School community,” it stated.
On April 16, high school students, parents, concerned residents and school staff packed the Clover Ridge Elementary cafeteria to tell school leaders about their concerns and how they thought the district could become a more inclusive place.
The room had about 150 attendees, with a strong show of diverse district parents. The forum was the second step in the district’s “equity vision, framework and action plan development” timeline.
The meeting was also attended by three candidates vying for Chaska City Council and Donzel Leggett, who recently ran as a candidate for Minnesota Legislature District 47B.
Sophomore Faith Blackstone and her family, who made headlines around the state after they said some posters celebrating Black History Month were not allowed to be displayed at Chaska High School, were also in attendance.
Attendees were broken up into approximately 15 groups to talk about their concerns and what actions steps they thought the district should take.
Some of the suggestions included making the district’s equity coordinator position into a director position, so that person would have more authority and the person to fill the role should be a person of color.
Building community among students, hiring more educators of color and providing equity training to current teachers were other suggestions.
Sylvia Matekole, who has a son at Clover Ridge Elementary, said the district should ensure every student can succeed.
“(The district) should make sure we are using resources so every student can succeed,” she said.
Some participants criticized the district for censoring the Black History Month posters. Blackstone later displayed the posters at the Chaska Event Center as part of an event called “Black History 365 Uncensored.”
“I’m embarrassed she had to rent out the (event center),” said resident Marc Powers, adding Chaska High School administrators should have allowed the posters. “If you’re a part of this community and you didn’t think this was an embarrassment — you’re in the wrong room.”
Chaska High School sophomore Aniya Burnett thought positively of the discussions.
“I think it was cool how so many people were here,” she said. “A lot of people thought they needed to hear about other people’s cultures.”
The small-group format of the forum, however, left many parents with questions that went unanswered, said Tonya Coleman, prompting many to attend the District 112 board meeting on Monday.
During the packed meeting, residents brought up issues they said their children faced at school — including violence. Many felt the district did not address the recent racist image created by students or the Black History Month posters incident with transparency. The discussion lasted nearly three hours.
At the end of the discussion Superintendent Clint Christopher said there will be change.
“We’ve talked about the importance of increased communication and transparency, and we didn’t meet our standards. I didn’t meet my standards and I’m sorry and we will do better.”
A petition, “Parents Organizing to end racism in ISD 112,” was started Sunday, calling for a zero-tolerance anti-racism policy; trauma-focused, victim-centered support protocols; a change in Chaska High School leadership and more.
So far, the petition has over 500 signatures.`