ROCHESTER, Minn. - After a Rochester Public School Racial Equity Advisory Team disbanded community members say more still needs to be done.
The advisory team was formed in 2016 after the Office of Civil Rights determined students of color were disciplined unfairly at RPS.
District data shows for the first semester of the 2017-18 school year African-American students made up nearly 40% of the district’s discipline referrals. However, African-American students only represented 14% of total student enrollment.
In January Racial Equity Advisory Team members voted to end their efforts and not renew as a task force for RPS.
Former member Kamau Wilkins said, “Over the last years the group did accomplish some really meaningful things unfortunately it was fraught with mistrust from district administrators.”
Wilkins says unfair tactics and bullying ultimately led to the end of REAT. The task force looked to lessen the disproportionate discipline rate of minority students. However, Wilkins says it doesn’t signal the end of the effort.
“There's tons of opportunities here from a group of talented, well meaning people that have established themselves as understanding the issues with racial inequalities in our district,” he added. “And, we need to continue that work in whatever way we could formulate it even if it was unrelated to being connected to the district.”
Wilkins is doing what he can to keep the effort alive through Student Leaders Creating Change. It’s a program run through the Diversity Council that Wilkins says gives minorities a voice.
“For me, personally, REAT was always about finding the voice of the kids that are actually effected by the problem and through this program I think we're just finding another vessel. I was never ready to give up on this issue and so we continue to work and find new methods to make sure the kids are empowered and they're finding their voice within the school district,” he said.
KIMT News 3 also reached out to Rochester Public Schools. In a statement the district said:
The District is continuing extensive work in the area of equity. Several positions have been created with an equity focus over the past few years; four equity specialists, an American Indian Liaison, and most recently a district-wide coordinator of equity. The leadership of our district is focused on equity through a District Wide Leadership Team (DELT) under the direction of the coordinator of equity. Additionally, one of our three areas of focus in our district’s strategic plan is equity. Our district continues high-quality professional development for all of our staff in the area of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching, ENVoY, and other practices. In fact, during our January 20, 2020 professional development day, teachers, leaders, and paraprofessionals had the opportunity to choose from multiple topics, including a variety of sessions which focused on equity.
Another area of focus in our strategic plan is SEL (social and emotional learning). We have dedicated numerous resources towards SEL curriculum, student and staff support, and teacher knowledge. We know when children feel welcomed and supported, they do better in school. This is why we continue a focus on resiliency and SEL.
We also have expert partners that we continue to work with at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center. You can find our latest MDHR response on our website…this is a synopsis of work we are completing, which includes additional strategies not mentioned here. Our school board is also in the process of drafting a district-wide equity policy that will guide our work into the future.
Lastly, we want to thank the task force members for their work over the past three years. With their dwindling numbers, we understand their difficult decision not to renew as a taskforce. However, the work will continue to carry forward in our district.