A group of concerned parents kept up pressure on Eastern Carver County Schools on Tuesday night to address a string of racist incidents that have shaken the district.
The intimate discussion with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in Chaska raised difficult questions about how to best protect black and biracial students in the predominantly white school system.
“I have read about some things I find deeply disturbing,” he said, referring to recent examples of teenagers using racial slurs, wearing blackface and discriminating against students of color.
But he cautioned the 30 parents gathered there not to give up on “any of these knuckleheads.”
“We might be able to draw some of them back [through community intervention],” said Ellison, the first black and Muslim to hold the AG’s position in Minnesota.
Ellison was invited to the suburb of 28,000 about 30 miles southwest of Minneapolis by Residents Organizing Against Racism (ROAR), a growing body of parents demanding equity and accountability in the district — which encompasses Chaska, Chanhassen, Victoria and Carver.
The grassroots organization formed around Easter, after two white high schoolers circulated a racist map on social media that included pictures of 25 black students and the title “Negro Hill.”
Later that spring, Chaska High officials pulled a page from school yearbooks after discovering a photo of a student wearing blackface. More than 700 people signed a petition calling for the removal of the principal and voiced their frustration with how the district has handled racist acts.
At a community meeting last month, district leaders assured residents that their concerns were being heard and explored in an ongoing racial equity audit.
Superintendent Clint Christopher acknowledged that the district “didn’t meet the standard” when addressing racist incidents. In response, the school system hired its first equity and inclusion director, Keith Brooks, who began July 9.
But parents lament that racial issues persist and that district officials have done little to assuage their fears.
Amanda Flowers Peterson of Chanhassen said she was forced to transfer her two elementary-age children to another district this spring after her 6-year-old son was punched in the face by a classmate on two separate occasions.
“He was told he doesn’t belong,” she said, adding that administrators declined to label the incident as racially motivated.
Dontá Hughes, who moved to Chaska from Chicago seven years ago, says he no longer worries about his three teenagers playing outside.
However, after enduring a difficult school year marked by several discriminatory incidents, Hughes’ children asked him if they could transfer.
His 17-year-old son and 15-year-old twin daughters ultimately decided to stay at Chaska High in hopes of being part of a positive change from within the district.
“Your blackness is not a weapon,” Hughes recalls telling his children. “We’re not going anywhere. They can’t push us out.”
Jenna Cruz, a ROAR organizer, pointed to small signs of improvement.
District officials have committed to providing equity updates at school board meetings and recruiting more teachers of color, as well as providing voluntary implicit bias training.
And the local library has begun promoting literature by diverse authors.
“So people are listening and they’re wanting to make positive changes,” said Cruz, who contacted Ellison’s office seeking guidance. “As a black politician, he’s faced some of the things that our community is up against.”
Ellison’s stop, one of roughly 20 community visits since taking office, comes amid increased intolerance of immigrants and minorities.
During the 90-minute meeting, he urged community members to file formal complaints should bias-motivated crimes occur and praised their continued efforts to combat racism.
“Speak up even if your voice quivers,” he told the crowd. “Don’t let the ugly ideas soak into the soil.”