Post Script: WAPS discrimination


by Frances Edstrom, columnist

Ever since I first read that the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) was cited by the state Department of Human Rights (DHR), I have been mulling it over in my mind.

“Winona Area Public Schools is one of 43 districts and charters across the state of Minnesota that have been identified as potentially discriminating against minority and disabled students based on suspension data from the 2015-16 school year,” the Winona Post quoted WAPS Superintendent Richard Dahman as saying.

“Based on complaints from parents,” the Post wrote, the DHR official said, “‘I felt that if I spent time going through all of the suspensions at their various schools and charters I would find evidence of discrimination.’ He said that rather than investigate every single complaint of discrimination, he felt it was more productive to try to get school districts to make broader systemic changes.”

So, how does a school district go about fixing this perceived, but not proven, racial discrimination, and what does it mean to the students and teachers of Winona’s public schools?

Dahman was quoted as saying that the goal was to reduce all suspensions. And, teachers will get “culltural competency” training.

Common sense would lead me to believe that teachers do not suspend students willy-nilly, but for reason, and the particulars of those reasons should be made public. Perhaps if the pubic saw what discipline problems the teachers are encountering, solutions would be sought.

As it is now, teachers have been maligned for suspending students from their classes, and not so indirectly called racist.

We have to make a decision in this country. Do we let certain people avoid the consequences of breaking rules and laws? What sense does this make? The whole idea is discriminatory. If we don’t expect people to follow rules and laws, then get rid of the rules and laws.

Oh, but that leads to chaos, doesn’t it. Rules and laws are for the protection of the citizenry at large, and that includes students and teachers. If teachers are trained to see that certain students should be allowed to wreak havoc in the classroom without punishment, isn’t that in fact discriminating against the students who don’t make trouble, and who lose instructional time in school? And really, isn’t letting some students get away with not sitting and listening, and not treating the teacher and fellow students with respect, the real discrimination here?

Kids have a finite time limit to public schooling. If we allow, and even encourage, them to waste that time because we see them as culturally unable to follow the rules, what will they find when they graduate, or at least age out of, the public school system?

What these kids, no matter their color or abilities, will find is that they are not prepared for real life, where the people who have jobs and paychecks to award expect the people they hire to be prepared to follow rules and procedures. These kids will find that it didn’t do them any favors in their 12 years of school to expect everyone except themselves to be “culturally competent,” that is, to be able to work effectively in diverse cultures.

Public education in this country traditionally has been expected to prepare kids for successful lives in the prevailing culture. Our culture doesn’t demand that we not participate in our own unique cultures outside school, or work. However, to be successful, we must all learn what the common standards of behavior are, and when we must observe them.

Where else but in our schools can those standards of behavior be taught? If we abdicate that responsibility in public education, we leave it to law enforcement, where the punishment isn’t suspension, but jail.

We don’t do students any favors by allowing them to avoid learning, which is what I fear is proposed in the state of Minnesota, where teachers are pronounced racist when all most of them are trying to do is get through to the majority of the kids in their classes so some learning gets done.


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