Irony is a hard concept
Last night a nice man explained that the statistics he has gathered regarding children of color not doing as well in school can’t be supported. Instead of worrying about racial nonsense, we should focus on academics. WBL is far behind our neighboring school district, Mahtomedi. I wondered, why choose that neighbor instead of North St. Paul, Roseville or Centennial? After all, Mahtomedi is a fraction of our size and contacts with other school districts/agencies for special education services at other locations.
I now understand this speaker was using an antiphrasis technique to prove that the stats were correct and a mostly white, higher economic school district will indeed score higher on most metrics. Well done, sir!
Irony is a hard concept. A woman wearing an “I stand for the flag and kneel for the cross” shirt was baaing at the “sheep” who were following the rules of order set forth for the meeting.
A darling little eighth-grade girl bravely came forward to tell us that until last year she never had to think about children in her class being a different race, and for the first time she heard the phrase “white supremacy.” I thought this was a commendation of long overdue hidden truths coming to light, until the end when the “Patriots” started cheering, effectively shutting down the meeting. When this child was called to the podium, she learned that her thoughts mattered. She also learned that rules of conduct and civil discourse don’t matter if you’re the loudest.
I also saw our friends of color sitting quietly, arguably fearfully, not daring to say much, in what turned out to be a contentious, ugly situation. Not for one second did I worry about what I could or couldn’t say to those around me, and the people yelling from the perimeter of the room certainly had no fear of retribution. If I didn’t have a clear picture before of what white privilege entailed, I certainly did after.
We can and must do better
As a parent of two children in the White Bear School District, I’m writing to express concern over behaviors I observed at the Aug. 9 school board meeting at which I also spoke. At the start, Dr. Kazmierczak read a proposed amendment to the public forum protocol designed to ensure an environment allowing for stakeholder input while also allowing the board to successfully conduct its business in a public setting.
Time limits and expectations for conduct were clearly established, including: address the board not the audience, no shouting, no disturbing the assembly, and no abusive/threatening language, among others. The board unanimously approved the recommendation, and it was immediately implemented.
Acting chair Jessica Ellison stated that if the rules were violated, a warning would be given and then the public forum would be closed if these behaviors continued. It was not long before several in attendance willfully violated the rules. A warning was issued and a five-minute recess ordered in an attempt to restore order.
Following a student speaker, several members of the audience again violated the rules designed to maintain order in the meeting. In accordance with what had been communicated at the start of the meeting, the public comment period was closed. This was not due to the speaker’s remarks but rather the failure of the adults in attendance to abide by the rules. At that point, a majority exited the meeting yelling and shouting, few remained for the business portion of the meeting. How can one say they truly care about students, the future of our district, and transparency, yet leave before the business agenda even begins? How many of those who left read the board packet that’s published and available online before each meeting?
Like so many in attendance, I was dismayed by the behavior of these individuals whose singular focus seemed to be to create spectacle and disrupt the vital work of our elected school officials, rather than inform it. More than ever, our students need adults who model civil discourse and a willingness to learn from one another's experiences. We can and must do better.
Our children deserve better
I attended the WBL School Board meeting on Aug. 9 and believe what I witnessed at this board meeting is NOT representative of the majority of this community.
The meeting started out with Superintendent Kazmierczak reading an addendum to public forum procedures to ensure an orderly way for stakeholders to share their perspective and voice opinions. The room was packed with concerned citizens. While many seemed interested in the actual business of the meeting, others were not.
There was a group of attendees that were loud, disruptive, angry, rude, disrespectful and refused to follow civil protocol. I witnessed one woman yelling from the side of the room with a look of rage on her face simply because someone could not hear. One gentleman walked through the room yelling comments. Another gentleman used the podium to announce his school board candidacy, yelled, “God Bless America,” and saluted the audience.
Sadly, public forum comments were forced to end due to continued outbursts. Others who wished to address the board were unable to do so. After causing significant disruption, many of these attendees proceeded to walk out before the meeting’s next agenda item: academic programming, which seemed contrary to their demands for transparency and their expressed concern about students and their learning.
Schools have been exceptionally challenged over the past 18 months. COVID restrictions and school closure decisions were passed down from all levels of government and landed at the feet of our local school leaders. Everyone in the community has different views on what the “right” decisions are for masking, school closures and addressing racial equity issues in our schools, yet no one perspective is the only perspective, and all who wish to voice their views at board meetings should feel safe and respected in doing so.
I encourage all to attend in support of our students and our school leaders at the next board meeting on Sep. 13 at 5:30 p.m. to better understand both the good things happening and the challenges faced.
Our children are watching and they deserve better.
Chris Streiff Oji
Retired principal and school board candidate
Focus on improving public education
When I was back in public schools as young as I can remember, it seemed like “us kids” all wanted to hear the truth from our teachers. I hear a lot of talk lately from parents who are concerned about what their kids might learn in school, but not much focus on what the kids want. I’m pretty sure they want to be taken seriously. They want to be trusted. They want to have the most accurate knowledge in front of them, so that they can act independently and make good decisions. We know they want this, because it’s what we wanted.
It gives me some hope that schools and citizens have been working to approach these needs lately. There are effective, conscientious pushes now to provide more accurate (and age-appropriate) history to our students. It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s wonderful to see happening.
So, I’m concerned to hear so much protest lately from parents who are focused on limiting what their kids can be trusted to hear. There is a concerted effort to derail every program and policy that has been done in the name of equity, and that is throwing an enormous community investment out with the proverbial “bathwater.” In the rush to protect children from difficult discussions that need to be had, we have a loud sliver of the community working to censor free speech and dismantle community outreach and inclusion.
Please everybody: Focus on improving public education, not limiting it. Focus on healthy ways of passing on our complex history, not ways to suppress it. Focus on ways to reach each child where they’re at and provide them with the education that is their right, not on ways of reducing our teachers’ influence.
Equity education is necessary
Honest education about race, diversity, equity and inclusion is necessary to create positive community environments by helping people understand and respect differences among people. I emphatically value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education and wholeheartedly support the equity action plan being implemented by White Bear Lake Area Schools.
Among the essential reasons for equity education is preparing our children for the future. To be prepared for an inclusive future, children need to clearly understand the past and how that has influenced the present. DEI policies and training are currently taught in higher education and the workplace. All levels of higher education — community colleges, public and private universities clearly state and hold staff and students accountable to racial diversity, equity and inclusion practices.
DEI is also part of the present workplace culture. Learn a lesson from local employers like 3M, Medtronic, Target, HB Fuller and Trane, as each have DEI policies and promote an inclusive work culture. Companies invest time and money to educate and hold their employees accountable to practicing equity in the workplace. Age-appropriate education about race, racism and anti-racism prepares children in our community for future education and work cultures.
We have three young adult children who are White Bear graduates. We intentionally chose for them to attend the public school so that they would experience a more racially and ethnically diverse learning environment. As they started full-time career positions, DEI training was included in their on-boarding. As racial equity is expected in today's workplace, equity education is necessary in our schools.
WBLAS is providing responsible public education. They are preparing our children for their future careers by developing children into critical thinkers and respectful citizens. Honest education about race, diversity, equity, inclusion and dignity is not only critical for our children, but for everyone in our community. This is crucial, not only for an equitable society in the future but for a more respectful community today.
Cathy and Jeff Solomon