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Groups aim to tackle racist harassment in Minnesota schools

Racist incidents tied to school athletics have impacted schools across the state in recent months, ranging from jeers at sporting events to alleged discrimination within teams.

Racist video brings calls for action at Prior Lake High School .jpeg
Acha Deng speaks during a rally at Prior Lake High School in Savage, Minnesota, on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, after a racist incident at the school. A coalition of school groups on Monday, March 7, 2022, has launched an initiative to tackle racism after a recent series of high-profile incidents involving discrimination and bullying at public schools across Minnesota.
Evan Frost / MPR News
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ST. PAUL — A coalition of school groups has launched an initiative to tackle racism after a recent series of high-profile incidents involving discrimination and bullying at public schools across Minnesota.

The Minnesota State High School League, which assists with athletics and fine arts programs for more than 240,000 students at 500 member schools across the state, said it is working with 10 other organizations to create a code of conduct and provide resources to schools seeking to address bullying and discrimination. The League outlined its plans to address racist conduct to state lawmakers at a House Education Committee Hearing Monday, March 7.

Highly public incidents of discrimination and bullying tied to school athletics have affected schools across the state in recent months, ranging from jeers at sporting events to alleged discrimination within teams. In some cases, they have led to resignations and protests.

“The recent events that have taken place within schools indicate that there are issues with racist comments and actions as well as general respect for one another,” said Minnesota State High School League Executive Director Erich Martens. “A number of these incidents have happened within athletic teams or are connected to athletic contests. These events clearly indicate that there is more work to do.”

In February, the superintendent of Robbinsdale Area Schools said his district would no longer compete in any athletic events against New Prague schools after a girls' varsity high school basketball team faced taunts including chants and “monkey noises” from students and adults in the crowd in New Prague. St. Louis Park High School also said it would stop competing with New Prague after a hockey player faced racist taunts.

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Meanwhile, the coach of the Minnetonka High School girls' basketball team resigned in February following an incident in which a player allegedly used a racial slur against Black students. After a Prior Lake High School girls' basketball player said she found a racist note in her bag, the team's coach resigned and the team ended up forfeiting its last game of the season and a playoff match.

Following the spate of incidents, the Minnesota State High School League and other groups on Feb. 24 announced an initiative to address racism in schools. They plan to develop and distribute a code of conduct for school activities — including for spectators — convene a student conference to raise awareness of race, gender and bullying, and provide resources to schools to eliminate harmful behaviors and support affected students.

“Mistreatment of anyone on any basis is not only intolerable, it is something we, as educational leaders, unequivocally condemn. Racial, religious, or sexual harassment is simply unacceptable in our schools,” the group said in a memorandum. “The goal of safe, supportive school environments is of paramount importance. It is essential that every effort be made, and action is taken to ensure that all students have a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities. In addition, victims of racist words or actions need support. Together, we commit to making every effort to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities.”

Organizations joining the State High School League include the Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrator Association, the Minnesota Rural Education Association, the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, and Schools for Equity in Education.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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