Editor’s note: The author wrote this commentary as an open letter to Eastern Carver County Schools Superintendent Clint Christopher and Chaska High School Principal Jim Bach.
I write to you as a community member and former student of the ECC public school system. I write to you as a Chaska High School 2016 graduate, as a student currently attending a predominantly white university, and as a black member of the Chaska community.
But most importantly, I write to you to express my severe disappointment in the current community I’ve seen displayed in the media. For the last nine months, I’ve read and watched several stories describing blatant discrimination against black students in Chaska’s community, all occurring on school grounds or between peers.
I am not just disappointed to see these actions continue to persist in a system that seems to perpetuate them, but am ashamed to say that I was even a member of this now-alien school community.
The first racist action I heard of, that reflected nothing but pure malice, was the racial slur written on the gym shirt of a Chaska Middle School East student by another student. After that, it was the blackface at home football games and the censoring of posters depicting the reality of many black Americans during Black History Month.
With each subsequent story, my anger grew alongside my curiosity. I was angry because Chaska High School was a place where I made friends, grew academically and as an individual, and was able to pursue interests and passions. My anger persisted through the desire to make sure black students at Chaska felt comfortable enough to have as good an experience as I did, if not an even better one.
After the Black History Month protests, you stated, “We have to do a better job of proactively communicating our values internally and externally. It has been disheartening to watch the news media attempt to label our community based on these incidents, that again, I say are unacceptable, but do not reflect the overwhelming majority of our community.”
One month after this statement, the unacceptable happened again.
These are not just “incidents” or “situations.” They are the lives of real students who are not being given a safe environment in which to learn and grow.
You have laid out an equity vision and framework aimed at creating a more tolerant community and to help close the achievement gap. Closing the achievement gap shouldn’t only focus directly on minority students, it should also target proactive steps to stop a predatory environment that hinders the success of the affected students.
In short, it’s pretty difficult to pay attention in biology when you’re wondering if any of your pictures from Instagram will be Photoshopped onto “Negro Hill.”
As a black alumna of Chaska High School who has only ever had educational experiences in predominantly white settings, I urge you to listen to student voices. You need to ask yourselves what precedent you’re setting now.
Most importantly, you need to ensure that the policies you set are action-oriented; that they don’t just create change within the current cohort of students, but will create a legacy beyond the walls of the building on Pioneer Trail.
Until you learn from and through your students, each statement you put out and each initiative you create will do nothing but continue to alienate your most vulnerable students.