District gives more information about equity efforts
Opinions about the Lakeville Area School District’s poster series and the Equity Update presented in April continue be expressed.
Some District 194 residents voiced during an April 27 School Board meeting opposition and support to the development of two posters in the series that carry the words: Black lives matter. The School Board also responded to comments received previously during the meeting during Board Communication.
Those in opposition say the District 194-developed posters are linked to the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which also developed posters that were previously banned in District 194 since they were deemed political in nature as part of Policy 535. One parent said posters/fliers and other materials should be impartial, non-divisive, sensitive to each and every child enrolled in the district and not directed to a certain group.
Another parent said that Black lives matter is a declarative statement and nothing more than that. Brian Vossen, a teacher and coach in the district, said the issue is not going to be fixed by taking the posters down, it will be fixed by putting up more of them representing all different groups in the community.
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.
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.”
During the April 27 meeting, School Board Chair Judy Keliher said she hoped the Board Communication was able to address concerns, questions and misinformation in the community.
“We must work together and we cannot continue to put our children and their education in the middle of personal and political agendas,” she said.
She said the district’s mission is to ensure the personal, social, academic and civic success of each and every student.
“To achieve our mission we recognize there are gaps in learning, opportunities and student experiences,” Keliher said. “These gaps have a systemic component that exists in our educational system. It is necessary for all our students to feel safe and have sense of belonging to improve their academic outcomes. Out of respect for the dignity and humanity of every student we serve, we are committed to our work for equity and inclusion.
“Stating Black lives matter on a couple of these posters affirms black students and families in our community,” Keliher said. “It does not change and will not change our position on allowing political organizations in our schools and classrooms. It does not devalue the lives of others.”
She said the district is addressing the need to improve academic achievement.
“Building relationships and having students trust adults in and out of school are key,” she said. “We all need to listen, learn and understand what our children need, and to know how we can support them so they can become successful contributing citizens. As leaders and as a strong caring school community, we need to transform the conversation to focus on our students lives sense of belonging, increase positive educational experiences and ultimately raising academic outcomes.”
The poster series was presented as part of an Equity Update presentation on April 13. The district’s equity 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.
Baumann said during the April 27 meeting that the district is trying to work through difficult issues in the community, state and nation.
“In Lakeville Area Schools, we are addressing the achievement gap as part of our larger effort to improve our schools,” he said. “Our Achievement and Integration plan specifically calls for us to reduce the achievement gap on state assessments by 5 percentage points by 2023. Our strategies to reduce the achievement gap include adding after school and summer programming, additional professional development for teachers, and adding more staff of color.”
He said the district has added systems to track student progress on reading so it can support students with appropriate interventions. That effort will expand to math in the coming years.
“Finally, we are in the middle of a multi-year effort to improve the social emotional learning in our schools. In particular, we have targeted improving the sense of belonging among our students of color. We believe that social emotional learning is an important part of improving academic outcomes.”
Baumann also addressed the issue of Critical Race Theory, which was defined by 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.”
“Many have asked whether Lakeville Area Schools is teaching Critical Race Theory. The answer is no,” Baumann said. “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.
Baumann encouraged people to assess what Critical Race Theory is all about.
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