As a show of solidarity, seven statewide educational organizations recently released a joint statement supporting equity-related work in school districts despite a wave of criticism that school boards have faced in recent months.
The organizations are the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota School Boards Association, Association of Metropolitan School Districts, Minnesota Administrators for Special Education, Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association, and the Minnesota Association of School Business Officials.
Rochester School Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin said the statement reflects the stance of Rochester Public Schools.
"I think that they are absolutely right on target," Marvin said about the statement from the organizations. "We are committed to equity. And our definition of equity, and the one that's used by schools everywhere, is: trying to give every student what that student needs so that every student has the opportunity to be successful. We do not and cannot guarantee success."
Education Minnesota is the teachers union that represents most public school teachers in the state, including those in Rochester and the surrounding communities. Rochester Education Association President Dan Kuhlman wasn't immediately available for comment.
"Nearly all Minnesotans agree every student deserves an education that encourages them to understand and value who they are and where they came from so they can reach their full potential, no matter their skin color, background, gender, or ZIP code," the statement says in part. "Too often, we have fallen short of this goal, especially for our students of color, LBGTQ+ students, students living in poverty, and students with special physical or emotional needs. We are committed to reversing this trend with programs and policies that meet students where they are — academically, emotionally, and physically — and lift them up so every student has an excellent chance at academic success. For us, this is the definition of education equity."
The statement comes in then wake of scrutiny that has flooded local school boards in recent months. And although the statement only referenced equity-related issues, school boards have been bombarded on multiple fronts because of decisions they've made in response to the pandemic.
In Byron, two school board members resigned the same day. One of them, Emmy Harvey, credited the moves to the intense criticism board members receive from the public.
The Rochester School Board has faced backlash for its COVID-related decisions and accusations it teaches critical race theory. Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel has repeatedly reiterated that the school district doesn't teach critical race theory.
At the most recent Rochester School Board meeting, Chairwoman Jean Marvin recessed the proceedings for 30 minutes since some audience members refused to wear masks.
Nearly every meeting in recent months has included comments from the public, criticizing the district. At one meeting, a speaker in the public comment period told school board members that equity is a form of "reverse racism." Another contradicted Pekel's stance that the district doesn't teach critical race theory.
When discussing the joint statement, Marvin tried to contextualize what the district tries to accomplish.
"Education in this country is all about trying to provide factual information so that people can open their minds, consider other perspectives, and grow from that," Marvin said. "And that's what we're determined to continue doing: providing factual information so that people have that basis for making good decisions and expanding how they think."