Addressing racism, and perceptions of racism in our schools
June 5, 2020
Dear Anoka-Hennepin community,
I have been incredibly saddened by the negative social media this week regarding Coon Rapids High School. The actions described are shocking, inaccurate, and warrant an immediate response. I am truly sorry for the perception that we don’t support our students and allow racist behavior to go unchecked. Our district has made equity and student achievement a top priority and committed to this work through public board action. We will not rest until our schools ensure all students feel safe and welcome in school and achieve outcomes that are not predictable based on race, gender, sexual identity, religion, disability, or family income.
We take responsibility for providing accurate information. Because this situation involves private student data, which is protected by law, the school is limited in information that can be shared.
In December of 2015, a student that frequently read student announcements at school read the announcements wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and at the end of the announcements made a statement regarding her support of Black Lives Matter. This immediately brought questions about which student groups are allowed to use the student announcements to make personal statements, and in addition, the request for several other student groups to make their personal statements. At the time, the administration asked the student to clarify during the next day’s announcements that her personal statements were not appropriate during a school announcement. This created additional concern that the school did not support Black Lives Matter. At this point, the school administration realized that a schoolwide apology and explanation was needed, so the school administration worked with the student and her parents to create a respectful solution. The solution that the parents and student agreed to was a joint message from the principal and student explaining the free speech limitations placed on school announcements, but not limiting any student’s rights to free speech in general at school. Students were always allowed to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts in school. There were no issues that ensued as a result. Our schools continue to support students’ rights to free speech and specifically the message that Black Lives Matter.
Until earlier this week, the school administration believed that the joint solution created with student and parent, involving a principal message to the entire student body, was an appropriate response and supportive of the student. Immediately after learning that there was still hurt from the incident, the school reached out to the student and family to reconnect to understand any ongoing concerns. School administration feel terrible that the student felt this was an unsatisfactory solution at the time and continues to be dissatisfied with the situation.
Coon Rapids High School has had a focus on ensuring all students experience a safe and welcoming school climate. During the past five years, school administration has taken many steps to improve the student experience, specifically related to race, as part of a district wide initiative. Specifically, the following is a partial list of steps that Coon Rapids High School administration have taken:
- Using their racially diverse student groups to provide input to support administration in improving the school climate.
- Conducted annual culturally responsive staff development to help staff find success with all students including topics like: implicit bias, racial equity, and appreciation of diversity. Several sessions included students and community members of color on panels and individually sharing with staff the student experience and suggestions to improve school climate.
- Conducted annual surveys with the student body, disaggregated by race to determine what percentage of students in every student group feel welcome in school, feel connected to staff, feel encouraged to succeed, and feel treated fairly by administration. These surveys guide school improvement initiatives for the following years.
- Worked with district leadership to modify course offerings to ensure all students have courses of interest.
- Partnered with the University of Minnesota to create an internship opportunity for future leaders of color.
- Participated in districtwide and metrowide staff development to increase cultural competence and effective school climate and instruction initiatives to support all students.
The results of these efforts over time have been an elimination of the graduation gap between all students and students of color, increased participation in rigorous courses by under-represented students, and an increase in the percentage of students that choose to stay at Coon Rapids versus leaving for other options. Our data shows there is still work to do.
As a public school district, we share in the concerns expressed regarding racial equity in our community, state and nation and are committed as a school system to aggressively address discrimination and racism if it occurs through actions and involvement of our students.
This incident and our follow-up communication have left many confused and angry. Rather than serving as a wedge that divides, our schools must serve as a place where the discussion can happen without judgement or fear.