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Nimley shines spotlight on district's discipline disparity

The head of the Rochester office of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage has been invited to join a Rochester Public Schools team that's addressing the high suspension rate for black students in the district.

Kolloh Nimley, who heads the Rochester office, was invited Monday to join the district's equity team that's working directly with Great Lakes Equity for the next three years, as required by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights after concluding an investigation of the inequitable rates.

Nimley, who represents the state-created council from her office at Rochester Community and Technical College, has also planned a community forum for Dec. 3 to address discipline of black students within the district, and other education-related issues. Local legislators and community agencies will be invited to the event at Rochester City Hall, Nimley said. The time has not yet been finalized.

Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis says the district will have representatives at the meeting, and she offered to help Nimley facilitate the discussion. The district discussed plans for its own listening sessions at Tuesday's school board meeting, but did not raise the discipline disparity data revealed in the OCR report.

"At the end of the day, this isn't about me," Nimley said. "It's about getting the parents and community involved. That's what I'm going to focus my energy on."


Nimley said she had a testy exchange Monday with Rochester Schools Superintendent Michael Munoz, two days after the Post-Bulletin's report about the district's disproportionate discipline of black students. That data was detailed in the OCR's Sept. 9 report, but not in the district's Sept. 2 press release.

Nimley was critical of Munoz — who declined comment Tuesday — and the district in Saturday's story that detailed black students being disciplined at a rate roughly three times higher than their population. The OCR report says, among other things, that black students were "disproportionately sanctioned for 46 of the 50 types of misconduct, including misconduct that could be characterized as subjective, such as insubordination, disrespect, and disorderly behavior."

The district has been working to address the issue since at least 2007, according to a 2010 letter from former Superintendent Romain Dallemand.

"He was mad because of what I said in the newspaper," Nimley said. "He told me I don't know what they do there, but I stood my ground. I told him they still haven't updated parents about what is going on."

"The parents knew something was happening in the school, but they didn't know what. But again, parents have not been invited (by the district) so I'm going to make that effort."

Nimley has also reached out to the Minnesota Department of Education for additional feedback since being presented with the discipline data last week during an interview with the P-B. Her email to the education department said that the discipline disparity "cannot be left in the hands of the local school district."

Daron Korte, MDE's Assistant Commissioner, sent Nimley a lengthy response Monday, saying that the issue doesn't officially involve the department — it's a direct agreement between RPS and OCR — but that Commissioner Brenda Cassilius will be "reaching out to Superintendent Munoz to offer our support" and assistance in getting the district into compliance.

However, Korte also notes that OCR "has the authority to initiate administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce the obligations" detailed in the 15-page agreement that was signed Sept. 1 to conclude the five-year compliance review.


"OCR will be monitoring RPS's progress toward meeting the goals in the agreement, as you can see by the various reporting requirements and timelines set forth in the agreement," Korte wrote to Nimley. "So you can be confident that RPS will be held accountable for holding up their end of the agreement."

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