This is an open letter to the Independent School District 181 Superintendent, Laine Larson, and the members of the Board of Education, written and co-signed by 14 Brainerd High School graduates.

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Dear Superintendent Larson,

It has recently come to my attention that Kara Hall, visual arts teacher at Forestview Middle school, has posted racist commentary on Facebook that has caused harm to members of our community. Ms. Hall’s racist rhetoric included: "I know all I see are scary, awful blacks [sic] people robbing businesses that don't deserve this." and "The creepy, destructive, violent blacks we are all across America watching raid and ruin businesses across America need to be put in jail!"

Qualifying Black people as “creepy,” “scary,” “awful,” “destructive,” and “violent,” is clearly unethical and racist. While these comments were made online and not while working, I believe that personal bias cannot be separated from the workplace and threatens illegal discrimination in the classroom as defined by the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The MHRA defines illegal discrimination as, “...when someone treats you differently or\u0009does not give you rights\u0009you would normally have because of\u0009your race, your age, your sex, or some other protected characteristic. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act it is illegal to treat you differently because you belong to a certain group or ‘protected class’ of people.” Ms. Hall’s derogatory comments demonstrate a reasonable threat to violating these human rights of not only students of a ‘protected class,’ but our community at large. As someone who has gone through the ISD 181 system and received an excellent education, it is unjust to me that this education should be inequitable to all of the community members.

Racism is a structural and systemic issue, and it is an ethical imperative of a community to hold educators to the highest standard when they are primary influences in the lives of our children. We as a community are highly concerned. In speaking with a Black community member who I went to school with, who has children living in District 181, directly about this rhetoric, here was her response:

“I’m heartbroken that anyone would see me or anyone in my family as a scary, awful black. I lived in Brainerd my whole life and unfortunately with my family and many other POC [people of color] in Brainerd this isn’t the first time we have experienced ignorant comments like this from people in our community. The number of the black community in Brainerd is growing and I’m hoping that it helps push people out of their comfort zone to at least get to know us to be able to tell we are far from ‘scary animals.’ No teacher will be teaching my children of color, if she reduces their lives to scary awful black kids.”

No educator should be allowed in our schools who imposes this emotional duress on members of the community, especially when these community members are forced to find solutions to navigate this injustice amongst already existent grave structural inequalities. It is critical to state that this instance of racial discrimination by a District educator has not, is not, and will not be an isolated incident.

As a community, we know that who educates our children is a crucial factor in how they learn to think and engage critically in the world. Educators have an imperative and ethical task to demonstrate the Brainerd Public School’s values through words and actions. These values are as follows:

“Independent School District #181, in partnership with the community, will ensure all students achieve their individual potential by providing the highest-quality programs & resources to prepare learners for an ever-changing global society.”

Ms. Hall has clearly demonstrated that she is not able to be an ethical educator promoting ISD 181’s values for all students. In her reference to Black people, her derogatory comments clearly demonstrate a violation of these values, and she has perpetuated fear and exhaustion to members of the community she purports to educate. Achieving individual potential for all students, regardless of race, is something that Ms. Hall has shown she cannot do. As public systems across the country confront their ambivalence to racial discrimination, it is of utmost importance that educators also act upon ethical guidelines to reflect this “ever-changing global society,” which includes members of all racial and ethnic backgrounds in our community.

We ask that Ms. Hall is held accountable for her failure to represent ISD 181’s values and that she is a reasonable threat to violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act within the public school system. We would implore that you consider termination given the potential for future impact on Black, Indigenous, and students of color within ISD 181. Personal bias can bleed into professional bias, thus creating a toxic and discriminatory education experience, which is protected against by the MHRA. We believe that incidents like Ms. Hall’s inflammatory comments are not isolated. Thus there needs to be structural change to prevent this from happening again. We recommend direct protections against discrimination that result in a fitting punishment, such as employee termination, written clearly and irrevocably into the ISD 181 employee handbook. We also recommend a code of conduct be added to the employee handbook. We ask that you make this handbook publicly transparent. We also ask that there be transparent representation through a democratically elected oversight board for internal and external reports of alleged racial discrimination by ISD 181 employees, or any other form of illegal discrimination as outlined in the MHRA.

Less formally but equally as important: Ms. Hall has caused devastation and defamation to members of her own community. We must strive to live up to our values of promoting the individual potential of all students, and we can only do this through holding educators accountable when they violate these standards.

Thank you for your time,

Hannah Kangas

Brainerd High School Class of ‘13

Anna Gardner

BHS Class of ‘15

Isaac Rohr

BHS Class of ‘10

Sophia Hotzler

BHS Class of ‘13

Destiny Mankowski

BHS Class of ‘13

Gretah Kangas

BHS Class of ‘16

Carlise Sorenson

Class of ‘13

Naomi Swanson

BHS Class of ‘13

Nicholas Ashman

BHS Class of ‘16

Reilly Miller

BHS Class of ‘16

Emma Kauffman

BHS Class of ‘16

Wyatt Steinke

BHS Class of ‘13

Alli Kosobud

BHS Class of ‘13

Audrey Lothspeich

BHS Class of ‘13

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