Jul. 20—MANKATO — Before the Mankato School Board adopted a new district mission, vision statements and an equity decision-making checklist, a dozen citizens shared their opinions on whether public schools should be having conversations about race.
In a 5-1 vote Monday evening, the Mankato School Board approved recommendations made by an equity consulting firm.
The first board meeting to be held in-person again since the start of the pandemic was packed with people concerned about what the district is teaching its students about race and equity.
Several of the speakers during the open public forum said the district is overemphasizing race.
"We should keep the politics of skin color out of the educational process," Mark Wright said. "The School Board is charged with educating our children, not promoting divisive political strategy."
"Equity places individuals in groups and judges people according to the outcomes of their group," said Julie Strusz. "It pits groups against each other. All whites are labeled racists. All others are labeled oppressed."
Some speakers worried the district is teaching critical race theory — an often misunderstood academic framework from the 1970s that has resurfaced as a topic of hot debate in recent months.
"The framework that is being evaluated tonight is heavily rooted in critical race theory," said Brianna Weller. "Its emphasis on race as the lens through which it's serving students is hazardous. We're ignoring other aspects of our students and forcing them into groups based on a characteristic they have no control over."
But Minnesota State University professor James Dimock said critical race theory often is misrepresented by conservatives who don't want a public education system that prepares students for a diverse, interconnected world.
"If our children are not prepared to succeed in a global, multicultural environment — one which requires us to understand and respect other points of view — they are going to fail," he said.
Other speakers also applauded district leaders for working to address equity and talk about race and the history of racism.
"Yes, we are all created equal, but that has not been a reality," said parent Beatriz Smith. "And that's why we need to teach the honest truth so that it doesn't happen again."
None of the public speakers addressed any specific components of the proposed equity changes.
The recommendations from the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership stemmed from a process over the past school year that included retreats with district leaders and forums with families, students and community leaders. The district paid the organization $67,000 for leading the work.
The School Board approved a new set of "equity lens guiding questions" to be asked before policy, funding and other decisions are made. The questions include who is advantaged and disadvantaged, what is the impact on those groups, and why has the issue not been addressed yet.
"A racial equity lens is a vital decision-making tool, at the policy and practices level," Supt. Paul Peterson said in a memo to the School Board. "It slows down decisions to consider who has been historically excluded in shaping a specific policy or practice and yet has experienced disproportionate impact by such decisions."
The School Board also approved changing the district's mission and vision statements.
The new mission is: "Mankato Area Public Schools is committed to working together equitably, with families and communities, so that each learner has the knowledge and skills to be successful and contributing citizens in a diverse global society."
The new vision is: "MAPS vision is that every learner will be seen for who they are inclusive of: race, national origin, home language, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or religion. MAPS learners will experience a school environment that builds their voice and agency. Learners and families will be seen and heard. MAPS will assure that each learner has the skills to enter society with a joy for learning, a positive vision for the future and the ability to navigate the world with hope, dignity and their multiple talents."
The district also intends to update its values, but Peterson said more input still needs to be collected from district and community stakeholders.
The School Board also approved development of a glossary of equity terms that Peterson said is aimed at reducing ambiguity and politicization of terms such as institutional and structural racism.
The School Board adopted the recommendations with little discussion Monday. The board members had reviewed the proposal at a work session last month.
School Board member Chris Kind voted against the changes. He said after the meeting he had "concerns with the language" but he declined to elaborate.