It was a routine housekeeping agenda for the school district’s first meeting of the 2021-2022 school year, but the public forum conversation was once again dominated by an intense discussion of racial equity within the schools.
All speakers agreed they were against racism, but racial equity was a different question. Equity is defined as “the quality of being fair and impartial”; in education settings, it is often interpreted to mean that all students receive the individualized level of support needed for their success. Depending on their specific circumstances, some students will need only a little support, and others require more.
The district’s current equity statement reads: “To nurture the whole student, we disrupt systemic inequities by recognizing, honoring, and embracing all cultures with humility and respect.”
Some speakers felt the school’s equity work would reduce students to their most superficial traits, instead of recognizing them as complex individuals.
“Our young people should be taught to view one another not according to race or gender, but as individuals made in the image of God,” said one of the speakers during public forum.
“I don’t agree with this race equity stuff,” said another speaker. “I think it drives a bigger wedge between us. We don’t pay taxes for our children to be activists.”
Others spoke in support of the school’s effort to close the achievement gap, but questioned the accuracy of the equity audit completed in 2015 and asked for transparency about the district’s association with the Minnesota Equity Alliance.
A teacher of color also shared her thoughts at the podium: “Our young people need to know how to navigate change, how to navigate an increasingly diversifying population and to come up with constructive solutions for everyone,” she said. “Our community is changing, and race work requires race recognition.”
Another parent expressed similar thoughts.
“Pretending that we don’t see color or it doesn’t happen here is not only a lie, it prevents us from looking at ways we can become a stronger, more inclusive and welcoming community,” she said. “Teaching about equity and history is not going to create racial division; racial division is already here.”
Several parents also expressed their concerns about whether the school district will require masks for young students in the upcoming school year. The CDC recently came out with a new recommendation that everyone ages 2 and older who has not been vaccinated should still wear a mask indoors. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, children 12 years old and younger are not eligible to receive COVID vaccines. Although summer safety guidelines are available on the district’s website, the district has not announced a formal decision on its policy for this fall at the time of publication.
White Bear Lake Area Schools school board notes:
•Approved the 10-year long-term facilities maintenance plan. The next LTFM bond sale is planned for February 2023 in the amount of $16.5 million.
•Approved the long-term facilities maintenance plan for Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916 for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years. The budget is set at $142,000; each member school district shares a percentage of the cost. White Bear Lake will pay 10 percent, or $14,263.86.
•Approved a resolution to renew membership in the Minnesota State High School League for 2021-2022.
•Designated Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak as the identified official with authority to manage the Minnesota Department of Education’s external user access recertification system for District 624.
•Postponed the assignment of board committees and school liaisons to the Aug. 9 meeting.
•Resolved that the filing dates for school board candidacy in the 2021 election will be July 27-Aug. 10.
•Established that the date of the school board election will be Nov. 2, 2021. Four school board seats will be open.
•Approved the first reading of updates to several district policies.
— Jackie Bussjaeger