Progress to make Eastern Carver County Schools more inclusive and equitable is in the works.
Recently, District 112 officials hired a professor at the University of Minnesota to perform an audit to help officials understand gaps in its equity work. Staff will also be required to attend a two and half day bootcamp over the summer, in which they will not only learn how to make classrooms more inclusive, but also to self-reflect and address their own implicit biases.
“There’s a process of unlearning that has to occur for school leaders, in order to create space in their heads and be able to relearn how to do things differently,” said Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, who will be heading the audit and training.
Those undergoing the training will be the district's administrative team, including the superintendent's cabinet, principals, assistant principals, deans and district-level managers, according to Celi Haga director of communications and community relations for Eastern Carver County Schools.
The group will “participate in intentional, focused study through the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Institute,” Haga said. “During those two and a half days, the team will build a shared understanding and common foundation to support their individual learning as well as implementation of the district’s equity work and the findings from Dr. Khalifa’s audit. All staff will be engaging in professional development focused on equity throughout the 2019- 20 school year.”
As part of the audit, Khalifa will assess trends in the district’s student and staff data, review the district’s policies and perform surveys based on that research.
Still, many residents have voiced that there is more that needs to be done.
Many told their stories of students being bullied for the color of the skin and difficulties getting justice for the fear instilled in their children at the May 20 District 112 School Board meeting.
Some parents said they didn’t feel those targeting their children were reprimanded appropriately and called for a change in policies and leadership. Many specifically demanded Principal Jim Bach be removed from Chaska High School — noting an incident in which African-American students were not allowed to hang up some of their posters commemorating Black History Month, and other racial incidents that have emerged over the past school year.
Several people voiced their support for Bach, amid calls for his resignation, and highlighted his dedication and support to students to the board. They also criticized media coverage of the controversy, advocating that while there needs to be change, students are united in school.
“Is he perfect, of course not, who among us is? But he cares and he is trying” said Cindy Brazil, an employee at Chaska High School. “Can’t we work on uniting instead of dividing? People are talking about destroying a man’s career and taking away his livelihood. Certainly we can find some common ground.”
Later, Tonya Coleman, whose daughter helped make the Black History Month posters addressed the School Board.
“He sets the tone, we are not advocating for anyone to lose their livelihood, but there seems to be more attention paid to his livelihood and his well-being than the well-being of the kids who are being persecuted on a daily basis, who are being asked to prove it,” she said, adding that black students are being asked to prove their Black History month posters were censored.
There are now two petitions circulating the internet on the issue.
The first petition “Parents Organizing to end racism in ISD 112,” was started in April. It calls for a zero-tolerance anti-racism policy; trauma-focused, victim-centered support protocols; a change in Chaska High School leadership and more. The facilitators of that petition have organized into a group called “ROAR” which stands for residents organizing against racism.
The group has over 100 members and the petition has over 800 signatures, according to Coleman, who is one of the leaders of ROAR.
A counter-petition, which has garnered nearly 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday, asks users to sign in support of Bach, stating the racial incidents have “little to do with the teachers and high ups of the district, specifically Jim Bach.”
Eastern Carver County Schools administration responded to the first petition in a press release.
“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,” the release stated.
The district does not have an anti-racism policy, according to the release. However, race is addressed in the discipline, bullying and harassment and violence policies. The district said it won’t use a zero-tolerance policy.
“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,” it stated.
“The district’s approach allows for consideration of each individual situation before determining appropriate remediation, learning, and/or consequence,” it continued. “We take these actions very seriously and teach, remediate and discipline accordingly.”
The district declined to address demands for leadership change in the release.
“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,” it stated.
Headway to make the community more inclusive is also being made at the city government level.
A “work group” comprised of representatives from Chaska, the city of Carver, Eastern Carver County School District, Chaska Human Rights Commission, police department and residents and parents has been created to discuss how to make the community more welcoming, according to a report by Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.
All city staff will also go through the YMCA’s Equity Innovation Center for Excellence training.
“This is something that we have been working with the YMCA with over the past several months, including having some of our employees experience some of their training to experience the value it could bring to our organization,” Podhradsky wrote.
Earlier this year, the mayor and the Chaska Human Rights Commission denounced acts of racism at the school district.
“I think this training will be very good for our employees to experience to help make us more culturally competent in providing our services as we continue to see change in the community, and fits very well into a focus area we are currently working on is with our customer service in general,” Podhradsky wrote.