Students and community members are calling on New Prague Area Schools to do more following racist incidents involving students.
During the New Prague School Board meeting on Monday night, students, educators and parents said racist incidents during a girls basketball game and a boys hockey game on Feb. 15 highlight ongoing issues of racism, hate speech and intolerance within the district.
Roman Griffin, a 10th-grader at New Prague High School, told the school board racism is not new — it's been an ongoing issue for years.
“You guys as a school board, there is no type of diversity whatsoever, so you guys can’t possibly understand where we’re coming from as people of color,” Griffin said, noting racist incidents are affecting students' learning, livelihood, and emotional safety.
The school community is calling on the district to take steps toward resolving the racism problem within the district to ensure all students feel safe.
Superintendent Tim Dittberner during the meeting said racist incidents within the district have increased compared to two years ago and the district needs to be "proactive and educate" to prevent future incidents.
These conversations about racism stem from two separate incidents during sporting events on Feb. 15. New Prague fans, including adults, allegedly made monkey noises toward visiting Robbinsdale Cooper High School during the varsity girls basketball game. And that same day, two New Prague boys hockey players reportedly called a member of the visiting St. Louis Park team "monkey" and told him to "go back to the 1860s" as the player was skating off the ice.
Other incidents of racism have since surfaced involving New Prague students. During a ninth-grade basketball game between Benilde-St. Margaret's and New Prague, two girls in the stands reportedly referred to a Benilde player as a "monkey" as he shot free throws.
Dittberner noted the investigation into the girls basketball incident is nearly complete. When it is finished, the district will release a public statement. But he said regardless of the outcome of the investigation, there are other incidents of hate speech that have surfaced.
He said the district "does not and will not tolerate hate speech and racism" in schools, adding, "We simply must do better."
Dittberner shared an initial three-step action plan to ensure New Prague Area Schools takew "meaningful steps to changing our culture" so every student feels welcome.
Here's what he outlined:
— The first step is putting together a "school district climate task force" made up of students, staff, parents and community members, who will assess district needs that will help provide for a more inclusive environment for all.
— The district will identify additional resources and development for staff to plan, prepare and implement best practices to address and eliminate "harmful behaviors" in support of students and others who have been impacted.
— Working with student leaders to raise awareness of appropriate conduct, bullying, race, gender and other issues.
Dittberner noted he has been in touch with St. Louis Park schools to bring their student groups together when the timing is right to lead the change at the state level.
"I believe our students and staff are ready to support change and cultivate an environment free of racism and hate speech," Dittberner said. "The focus will be on restoration and not merely punishment."