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Petition calls for diversity, changes at Minnetonka Public Schools

Students want assemblies and speakers, not "vague responses" to emails.

There's a petition going around calling on Minnetonka Public Schools to make some changes including better educating students and staff about race issues.

The petition, titled "Diversify Minnetonka Public Schools," was started June 7 and is directed toward the district, Superintendent Dennis Peterson and Minnetonka High School Principal Jeff Erickson. As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, it had 1,271 signatures. 

"Instead of vague responses to emails, we want regularly scheduled workshops or assemblies with guest speakers that address the issues that our classmates will face when they graduate," the petition states. "There is so much more that we, as a school, can do."

Following the killing of George Floyd, Superintendent Peterson wrote a message to students, which was published on the district's Facebook page on June 3. Peterson says the school community has struggled with issues of inclusivity, noting they've taken strong steps to work through the challenges and he's committed to doing more for students, but did not provide specifics.

The post garnered nearly 100 comments, with many asking for more communication on what the school is going to do and for it to change its action plan. Meanwhile, some commenters criticized the district's delayed response in addressing the protests and Floyd's death and for removing comments that may not fit the district's "narrative."

The petition says Minnetonka Schools have a "long history" of brushing "controversial topics" under the rug or "only instating reactionary reforms after something has happened," giving the example of an anti-Semitic dance proposal that prompted the district to bring in a speaker to talk about anti-Semitism only after the event happened.

The petition accuses Minnetonka of having "almost little to none diversity" for students to learn about racism in "an unbiased and unrevised way," noting the only opportunity for students to get "true glimpses" of the reality that people of color go through are "sheltered and shallow snapshots of the history of people of color in America and how they affected the white narrative in history classes."

The petition's creator, Jin Bang, counted the number of staff in the 2018-2019 yearbook finding 14 out of 328 staff members were people of color, noting most of them aren't teachers. Bang asks, "How can students feel safe and accepted in a space where they aren't represented?"

According to 2006 Minnesota Department of Education data (the most recent year available), of the 7,703 students in the Minnetonka Public School District, 652 were minority students.

The petition claims Minnetonka teachers don't get any anti-racism training and says current events are not mentioned or explained in-depth "for fear of seeming too controversial." Instead, student groups have been left to organizing events to highlight issues.

"It shouldn't be the job of students to educate their fellow classmates. It should be a responsibility of the school, a responsibility that is being ignored," the petition states. "Especially now, regarding the [Black Lives Matter] movement and the murder of George Floyd, it's important to share the history behind these current events and the systemic violence that continues them.

"Students must stop being sheltered from the diverse reality of society," the petition added.

The petition understands that major change won't happen overnight, but it wants it known that students want a change. The petition lists a few changes suggested by Minnetonka students that include: not tokenizing; teaching about actual colonial history; not celebrating Columbus Day; not limiting assemblies regarding black issues around slavery or the civil rights movement; better education on race and diversity for staff and students; and having more people of color in positions of power. 

When asked for comment on the petition as well as examples of some things the district has done to shed light on racial issues within the district in recent years, Minnetonka Public Schools' spokesperson JacQueline Getty responded with a statement:

"Minnetonka students are passionate, engaged and proactive, and we want to encourage that. The district is committed to positive change and to combatting racism and discrimination of any kind within our school community. We have invited several students who sent emails to the district in to tell us more about their experiences. Their input and involvement will be critical as we take steps forward to improve our efforts to stamp out racism, promote inclusivity and ensure Minnetonka Schools feels welcoming, safe and supportive for all students and families."

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