Parents, students voice concerns at meeting

Those for and against the Inclusive Poster Series and the district’s equity work continued to voice their opinions about them during Tuesday’s Lakeville Area School Board meeting when about 50 people attend the meeting, as those who submitted comment cards were placed into a hat to be drawn for the half-hour Public Comment time.

The poster series includes two that say “Black lives matter,” which the district has said stands for the social justice movement, but those in opposition say it reflects the views of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which they said stands for political positions. Opponents maintain any poster with that name on it should be banned by policy.

Speakers also addressed their support and opposition to the district’s equity work, which is included in the district’s Achievement and Integration Plan. The plan aims to address the achievement gap between white and minority students.

The poster series was presented as part of an Equity Update presentation on April 13, and at the School Board’s three regular meetings since that time opposition to the two posters and equity measures have been expressed.

The Black Lives Matter Global Network’s posters with the black background and white block lettering were banned in September 2020 since they were deemed political in nature as part of district Policy 535.

Parents speaking during Tuesday’s meeting echoed concerns expressed at previous meetings saying that the district is creating division by having a sign directed toward a certain group. The other four signs in the series do not mention any racial group.

Parents have also said that the poster series did not include enough parent and student feedback before the posters were approved.

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

One elementary school student who spoke during the meeting said she asked for the district’s poster to be removed because the district said there should be no BLM or politics in schools. She said the district can’t even follow its own rules with regard to the signs.

One district resident wrote in a letter that was read during the meeting that most parents are afraid to speak out against the district for fear of backlash.

Superintendent Michael Baumann said of the Inclusive Poster Series: “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.”

The district’s equity work has included professional development, along with open meetings to talk about equity issues with parents and students.

One parent said people speaking out in opposition to the two posters and equity efforts have been suppressed.

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 on May 15 did not include discussion, as the district said it focused the virtual session on providing learning based upon parent feedback from the first session and a pre-survey of registrants. This survey data was used to create the basis of the learning for the day, which was focused on systemic racism, the district said.

Some parents have said that the equity plan includes Critical Race Theory, which they said indoctrinates students into believing ideologies that they do not agree with.

Critical Race Theory was defined in a recent Washington Post story as “a decades-old academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. It holds in part that racism is woven into the fabric of the nation’s history and life — a product of the system and not just individual bad actors.”

Baumann said during an April meeting: “Many have asked whether Lakeville Area Schools is teaching Critical Race Theory. The answer is no. Our curriculum does not include CRT. I am informed that the state’s efforts to re-write the Social Studies state standards currently includes CRT.”

He said Lakeville Area Schools and the state have not adopted the standards.

One speaker who expressed support for the equity plan said she asked one of her biracial children if she could share some of the experiences he’s had with racism in the district, but he said no because of the trauma he’s had, and if he did share his experiences, he could be identified.

Another speaker said the district is on track with equity, citing incidents when two women from Somalia who attended a School Board meeting to learn about the equity plan were taunted and then left because of the treatment. She also said students in trucks circled a group at Lakeville South High School who participated in the planned walkout to protest racial injustice in April.

Another speaker said the country isn’t racist in its entirety, but has in its history accommodated slavery when it counted Black people as three-fifths of a person in the Census and fought the Civil War over slavery. Another speaker said that in an effort to bring some sort of unity, she encouraged people to lean in more and understand one another. She encouraged people to be curious, and she hopes people can start to bridge gaps in the community.

One speaker said that during the May 25 meeting in the overflow room there were more than 100 people in opposition to the district’s Equity Update, with signs and chanting while they watched the regular board meeting on a screen. They requested that the regular meeting room be adjusted to accommodate more people. Tuesday’s meeting was held in a different set up at the district office.

The parent said she also supported a petition to add a seventh seat to the School Board. Currently there are five members on the board, as one of the seats is vacant due to former Board Member Zach Duckworth being elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2020.

That open position will be filled by a special election this year on Nov. 2.

The School Board could have filled the position by appointment or during the May 11 bond election, but opted instead to have the open seat decided in November.

The School Board has approved the filing process for the special election to fill the sixth seat.

Filing for that seat will open Tuesday, July 27, and close at 5 p.m. Aug. 10.

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

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