Students of color, LGBTQ+ students and those with disabilities feel less safe at school than their peers

To address the safety concerns identified in the survey results, several recommendations from the task force were presented to the Brainerd School Board.

Candace Burkhardt sits at a table in the boardroom.
Candace Burkhardt, student support services and equity director at Brainerd Public Schools, shares updates on the district's Equity Advisory Task Force with the Brainerd School Board Monday, July 11, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Students in marginalized groups at Brainerd Public Schools feel less safe at school than their peers, and the district is working to change that.

In an update on the district’s Equity Advisory Task Force Monday, July 11, Student Support Services and Equity Director Candace Burkhardt told School Board members survey data from a yearlong initiative to study student safety and engagement show students of color, Indigenous students, LGBTQ+ students and those with disabilities don’t feel as safe at school as others. These students have reported bullying and derogatory slurs and do not feel responses from school staff are wholly effective at addressing issues or repairing harm. These feelings led to students missing school.

Students of all types, the survey found, reported safety concerns in less structured or supervised places like hallways, the cafeteria, bathrooms and buses.

These local findings mirror those at the state and national levels, Burkhardt said.

To address the safety concerns identified in the survey results, Burkhardt outlined several recommendations from the task force. The recommendations are broken down into four key areas.


“The equity task force work is about ensuring all students have universal access and removing any barriers that may be preventing that access for students,” Burkhardt said.

Bully, harassment and interrupter training


  • Review bullying and harassment policies as well as plans for unstructured spaces in each building.
  • Consider interrupter training to encourage staff to step in when situations of bias, deficit thinking or bullying occur and train students to step in when bullying occurs.
  • Train school staff and administrators on how to intervene and respond when students experience discrimination or derogatory slurs.
  • Explore the adoption and implementation of schoolwide restorative practices.

Inclusive schools


  • Create an inclusive language and practices toolkit to support creating welcoming spaces for all students and families.
  • Develop a district language access plan to ensure families with limited English proficiency are able to access critical information.
  • Examine district documents to ensure langage and family inclusivity.
  • Participate in the Minnesota Bilingual Seals program to celebrate high school students who demonstrated proficiency in English and other languages. This program allows participating students to earn college credits at Minnesota State schools.

Gender equity and student voice


  • Adopt a gender equity school board policy and develop procedures at each school to protect the safety of LGBTQ+ students while at school.
  • Expand gender and sexuality alliances into all secondary campuses and continue the development of other clubs that allow for student voice and advocacy.
  • Look for areas to continue adding student representatives and authentic student input whenever decisions are being made at the school or district level.

United community


  • Continue to create equity events that allow for constructive conversation across areas of difference.
  • Bring the larger Brainerd lakes area community together through a common cause to show unity and cultivate collective caring for one another.

What’s next?

At the task force’s next meeting in August, Burkhardt said members will discuss how to move forward with the recommendations and determine its next area of focus for the 2022-23 school year. Focus areas the group plans to work on in the coming years are: student experience and activities, behavior and interventions, student support services, curriculum and assessment, hiring and retention, district policies and procedures, and community engagement.

Burkhardt stressed the task force’s goal is not to make any students feel less than anyone else.


“We heard in our survey that some families are fearful that when we focus on access for marginalized groups that children who belong to dominant majority groups may feel like their cultural traditions or viewpoints are less valuable,” Burkhardt said. “I want to be very clear that it is the goal of our equity task force that all students will feel seen, valued and that they belong at Brainerd Public Schools regardless of race, gender, religion, ability and so forth. Each member of our school district has a special perspective that is to be honored and welcomed.”

About the task force

The Equity Advisory Task Force was created in 2020 after School Board members included its inception into a written commitment to equity and inclusion in the district.

The task force is composed of School Board members, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. Along with Burkhardt, members include Amy Aho, Ashley Ingebrigtson, Charles Black Lance, Erin Karlgaard, Heidi Hahn, Jana Shogren, Kassidy Rice, Kevin Boyles, Laine Larson, Mary Sam, Martha Rustad, Sheila Eller, Tim Murtha, Tracy Riley and Will Riley.

Burkhardt said the group will soon advertise for a student, a middle school teacher and two additional community members to join.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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