The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district’s new leader said the district will “do what needs to be done” to ensure all students feel welcome and valued following a recent news report detailing allegations of racist behavior and discrimination at Metcalf Middle School in the spring.
Superintendent Theresa Battle said in a public statement Aug. 2 the behavior described in a July 31 Minnesota Public Radio News report is “very troubling.”
The article, “At Burnsville’s Metcalf Middle School, racial slurs poisoned the culture” by Elizabeth Shockman, reports allegations made by several students, parents and staff members that Principal Shannon McParland and other school leaders racially targeted students and staff.
The school has drawn attention for similar issues in the past several months. McParland last winter was recorded repeating a racial slur, which she said was used by a student, and publicly apologized.
Metcalf students involved with forming a black student union last spring were unfairly disciplined by school leaders, according to the allegations, and the students ultimately couldn’t form the group because of intense scrutiny by McParland and Akram Osman, the school’s former associate principal.
The article also details alleged retaliation against Greta Krupke, a Metcalf teacher, for her involvement in facilitating and supporting the black student union.
Students, parents and staff interviewed by MPR News described a “poisoned culture, enabled by school leaders, where victims of racist incidents felt punished or threatened for speaking up, and their concerns were dismissed.”
Those interviewed also said school leaders failed to act when racial slurs were regularly directed at an African-American teacher and other students.
“As part of our commitment, we will be reviewing past investigations and complaints, as well as an investigation of new allegations in the MPR article,” Battle wrote.
“We will utilize resources like the NAACP and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to assist us to resolve concerns. School and district leaders have and will continue to engage in discussions about responding to racial slurs and bias. These discussions include staff, students and families understanding the impact of culturally destructive or racist behavior.”
Battle’s said the district’s work around cultural proficiency led to last year’s “Speak Up” event at Burnsville High School, which included a school-wide conversation on race.
“The behaviors described in the MPR article are the antithesis of what ONE91 is all about,” she said.
In December 2018, a video clip circulated online showed McParland saying an expletive and the n-word.
“Seriously, you’re going to call me a f--- — n-----?” she says in the recording.
“After the student had left, the camera captures me repeating what the student said as a rhetorical question and to express my surprise that the student said those things,” McParland wrote in an apology to district families in December 2018. “Even repeating the words was inappropriate and hurtful and I apologize for my actions.”
In January, a community conversation was held at Metcalf in the wake of the video’s release.
“The most important thing I have to say is, I’m sorry — from the bottom of my heart,” McParland told the crowd, adding she would work to earn back the public’s trust. “I am sorry for not fully understanding the power of the words I said and the impact that resulted, which has caused pain and harm to this community.”
At the event, a group of female students at Metcalf read statements about the issue.
Students said they were confused about why McParland would use the entire slur, don’t feel heard and believe school staff members are uncomfortable discussing race. They also said Metcalf is a “harsh and degrading environment because other students are joking about the n-word and saying racist comments.”
The group of students repeatedly expressed their desire to begin a black student union similar to one at Burnsville High School.
“We are a District that values our diversity, and we expect our students and staff to hold themselves to high expectations and conduct themselves in a manner that creates a welcoming and respectful learning and work environment,” Battle said. “We will work with students, parents and staff to make sure that is true for everyone.”