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Amid Rhetoric, MN Schools Tackle Equity Issues

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Monday, October 11, 2021   

RICHFIELD, Minn. -- School districts across the country are seeing debate over how race issues should be taught in the classroom, but it is not stopping efforts to boost equity.

In Minnesota, a state known for its education disparities, some leaders are vocalizing their commitments. At a recent school board meeting in Richfield, there was no shouting over issues such as Critical Race Theory.

Stacy Theien-Collins, principal of Richfield High School, instead addressed the audience after reading a vision statement, which noted the school wants to dismantle policies that benefit whiteness and systems of privilege.

"We understand and know that as a school community, we're not there," Theien-Collins acknowledged. "But we also know that we have a measure and a vision in looking toward a direction we want to get to."

The statement was adopted earlier this year after gathering feedback from staff.

This fall, several education groups, including the state's largest teacher's union and the Minnesota School Boards Association, issued a joint statement, pledging to support and help expand programs that elevate marginalized students.

As for broader curriculum debates, those bringing up Critical Race Theory said enhanced teaching about race only creates more division, a claim rejected by many educators.

Meanwhile, in White Bear Lake, one school is enacting a policy change viewed as a way to address equity issues.

Christina Pierre, principal of Sunrise Park Middle School in White Bear Lake, said they are eliminating failing grades.

"Our whole intent is to ensure that grades focus on the process of learning," Pierre explained. "This is what we want our middle-school students to learn and understand. We want them to become good learners. "

Under the revised system, students also have a 10-day window to retake exams or anything else that is graded. Separately, the district's superintendent has said an equity audit revealed that grading systems are areas in which systemic racism and inequities exist.


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