Minnesota’s “Brave New World” of education

On April 26, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) announced that it has reached “collaborative agreements” with 10 school districts and charter schools which it claims discriminate against black and Native American students in disciplinary actions.

The department bases its claims on the fact that black and Indian students in these schools are suspended at higher rates than their proportion in the student population. In the department’s view, such demographic discipline “disparities” must be due to teacher bias, rather than actual differences in student behavior.

MDHR also announced the filing of “charges” of “educational discrimination” against the St. Louis Park School District and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District. Apparently, these two districts declined sufficiently to bend to the department’s will, though a St. Louis Park school official told MinnPost that the district is, in fact, “seeking to enter into an agreement” with the department.

Here’s the background, as MinnPost describes it: in Fall 2017, MDRH presented 43 school districts and charter schools “with a choice: enter into an agreement with the department to come up with a plan to address [discipline] disparities, or face litigation.”

The districts that have now signed agreements are the Bloomington Public Schools; the Cass Lake-Bena Schools; the Mankato Area Schools; the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Schools and the Robbinsdale Schools.

The charter schools are Best Academy in Minneapolis; Dugsi Academy Charter School in St. Paul; Prairie Seeds Academy in Brooklyn Park; the St. Paul City School; and Mastery Academy Charter School in Minneapolis.

MDHR expects to announce agreements with additional school districts and charters in coming weeks.

MinnPost describes the provisions of the recently signed discipline agreements this way:

For districts and charters that have chosen to enter into a collaborative agreement with the Department, all have submitted three-year plans (available here) that outline the specific strategies they’ll be implementing.

These strategies include a broad range of things like professional development trainings to help educators address the “implicit bias that influences perceptions of student behavior” and ways to increase student and community engagement.

For instance, according to the agreement submitted by the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, the district will be providing professional development with a focus on things like culturally responsive teaching practices and trauma-informed care, and reforming behavior response protocol to include things like restorative circles at every school site.

It’ll also be monitoring its progress in reducing discipline disparities by reviewing suspension data broken down by race and special education status each month with school leaders and each year with the school board. Lastly, the district will look to enhance hiring practices aimed at recruiting and retaining more teachers of color.

Implicit bias training, culturally responsive teaching practices, “restorative circles”….

Pity the teachers and students who will be seeking to teach and learn effectively in this brave new world.