Staff, students and parents included in the efforts

For the past several months, the Lakeville Area School District has been working on efforts to create racial, cultural and socioeconomic equity in its schools.

Lydia Lindsoe, District 194 equity coordinator, and Paula Forbes, an Eagan attorney who has worked with the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and individual districts on such projects, explained that the district’s work has included professional development, along with open meetings to talk about equity issues with parents and students.

School staff members have taken Cultural Competency and Anti-Racist Curriculum and Design training. District administrators have participated in one-on-one leadership coaching focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. School Board members have participated in diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Forbes said her work is moving ahead with the process of including all students who come into the doors of the school.

Forbes said the work in District 194 started by asking the students: “How do you create the best environment for everyone in your school so they can show up and be their authentic selves and offer the gifts they can in that space, regardless of race, regardless or gender, but to honor race and gender and who they are?”

Forbes said the demographics of the district have changed but the mission has not.

“Every child that comes through your doors deserve the same education as everyone else and the same chance to achieve — that’s equity,” Forbes said. “Equity is not taking from one child to give to the next. Equity is finding ways for all kids to succeed and have everything they need to be successful.”

The district held its first Family Voice Conference on Feb. 6 during which more than 50 parents provided feedback about the district’s goals. Another conference is slated for May 15.

Students can participate in Friday’s Illuminate Lakeville conference, which will be hosted in person at Lakeville North, Lakeville South and online. The conference will be student-led and address how the schools can become more equitable and inclusive for everyone.

The student conference will follow the World Cafe model, which will allow students to break out into small groups and address a single question.

“They are asking the tough questions,” Forbes said.

The equity efforts were spurred on by community reaction after District 194 released in September 2020 its interpretation of a policy pertaining to Political Campaigns and Activities that banned the posting of the Black Lives Matter Global Network’s signs, saying that is was deemed a political organization.

As part of the Equity Update, the district developed eight posters that would be available for staff members to post in the schools. Two of the eight options carried the phrase “Black lives matter.”

Several district parents have voiced opposition to the phrase being included on the posters, since it is linked to the Black Lives Matter organization. They said that Black Lives Matter was responsible for the rioting that occurred after the murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, along with other negative rhetoric and actions.

The district said the poster series went through a review process with focus groups that included students, school staff, school building leaders and the School Board.

The poster series was fully supported by the School Board, and all focus groups expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for the poster series, the district said. Most importantly, the students expressed appreciation of these messages, the district said.

In a communication shared by Superintendent Michael Baumann, “to affirm our unwavering commitment to and in support of our Black students and staff, this series includes two Black Lives Matter posters. While the district has not changed its position that the Black Lives Matter Global Network is a political organization, we recognize there is a non-political social justice movement represented by the statement ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Lakeville Area Schools-branded Black Lives Matter posters are permissible under Policy 535; we ask staff who want to put up Black Lives Matter posters in their classroom or work space to use those from this poster series.”

Tad Johnson can be reached at tad.johnson@apgecm.com.

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