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Our View: Protests were heard; now district has a chance to educate

There is no Critical Race Theory curriculum in the Rochester Public Schools, much less an indoctrination program.

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Wes Lund reads from a piece of paper inside a copy of Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" with a Land O'Lakes lowfat cottage cheese cover taped to the back during a Rochester Public Schools School Board meeting Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at the school district's Edison Administration Building in Rochester. A group of people opposed to critical race theory and masking to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 filled the audience during the public comment portion of the meeting. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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Whether he's here for one year or 10, Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel is likely to never forget his first school board meeting.

The city's welcome mat must have seemed more like a wrestling mat, as a crowd of about 50 people jammed the board room to verbally pummel the board -- and Pekel, who was described by one speaker as a "deep state" operative -- over, among other things, the school district's efforts to indoctrinate students with a curriculum based on so-called Critical Race Theory.

One problem: The district has no such curriculum, much less an indoctrination program.

Nobody from the crowd could point to a class or a teacher, a textbook or a lesson plan, or even one, single fleeting exchange that substantiated their allegations. In actual fact, as Pekel pointed out in a recent visit with us, there is no local or statewide curriculum based on Critical Race Theory, nor is anything like it reflected in the Minnesota state standards for education.

These were baseless accusations from uninformed people. We have to wonder where they got their misinformation. Much of the controversy could have been avoided by asking a few questions. It would seem the school district has an opportunity to educate not only its students, but some members of the public as well.

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"This is one of the things that I took from it," Pekel said. "We, as a system, need to find ways to help the public understand what we are teaching positively."

To that end, Pekel reaffirmed the district's commitment to providing a learning environment and lessons promoting equity. He praised the district's equity statement, adopted last September , as a forward-thinking and necessary document that has influenced other school districts to follow suit.

The protesters from last week's meeting said they are likely to return to the next meeting. When they do, we hope they will return Pekel the courtesy of listening to what he has to say.

Speaking of other school districts, many of them, too, have been and will be facing crowds similar to the one that met Pekel at the board meeting last week.

In Rochester's crowd, Pekel said, he recognized a range of perspectives that ran the gamut, from sign-carrying people aggressively expressing their outrage to those who were simply questioning and concerned.

Perhaps he, and Rochester, can model another approach for other school districts in the state: How to engage a skeptical group of citizens and convince them that what the school district is doing is in the best interests of students and our future.

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