by ALEXANDRA RETTER 

 

The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board is expected to vote next week on who to appoint as members of the district’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Earlier this fall, School Board members voted to dissolve the district’s previous diversity and equity group, disbanding its membership. 

Before the School Board vote slated for December 2, School Board members who currently make up DEI are expected to meet on November 30 to decide whom to recommend that the board appoint. School Board members Stephanie Smith, Steve Schild and Karl Sonneman currently compose DEI and appeared to agree at an October DEI meeting that they would individually go over applications before conferring about them as a group. The plan is for DEI to then meet with the new members for the first time on December 14.

Some community members have called for the committee to be diverse and urged that it include the voices of those who have historically been marginalized. At the School Board’s September 16 meeting, community member Greg Johnson advocated for a diverse committee. “I’m hoping that you all can start to see that we want to get involved with this committee,” he said. Community member LaShara Morgan said in an October interview that she hopes DEI includes people of color with lived experience, trust and rapport with fellow people of color. “You have to first hear from the people you are trying to work with,” she said. At the Winona Human Rights Commission’s November 3 meeting, community member Maurella Cunningham encouraged people of color to apply for DEI. Additionally, community member Marci Hitz said it is very important to have people of color in the group. Local organization Winona Residents Organizing Against Racism has also advocated for including the voices of people of color in the district’s work, through emails during the fall. 

It is also not yet known how DEI members will be chosen from among the applicants. Several community members asked School Board members at the board’s November 4 meeting to use a rubric when reviewing applications. Community member Ruth Charles said she was not applying for the committee, and she wants to make sure those whose voices are not usually heard are part of the group. She asked that specific instructions be created for reviewing applications. Community member Maurella Cunningham said a rubric would make the review process less subjective. 

DEI met twice this fall after the School Board voted in September to dissolve DEC, the district’s prior diversity and equity committee. Some School Board members said putting DEI in place would raise up diversity and equity work within WAPS and create a more direct line between the School Board and the equity group. “The hope is we are building a stronger committee designed to address the concerns we keep hearing from the community, particularly the community of color,” School Board member Karl Sonneman said at the board’s September 16 meeting. “I like this idea that we’re going to take responsibility [for] this work because it needs to be done,” School Board member Jim Schul said at the board’s August 19 meeting. 

Some key questions DEI worked to answer this fall centered on establishing rough membership parameters and developing a membership application. 

They have chosen to aim for a membership structure of six staff members, nine community members and three students. DEC had talked about how to improve the inclusivity of its membership in the past but struggled with doing so. Some people of color on DEC said they did not feel the committee had a welcoming environment due to feeling their perspectives were not heard by the larger committee, and they would not ask fellow people of color to join. 

Schild, Smith, and Sonneman also decided in October to include on the application questions regarding applicants’ thoughts on diversity and equity in education and why applicants would like to take part in DEI. They included an optional question about how applicants self-identify. For instance, applicants would have the option to identify whether they are a person of color or member of the LGBTQ community.

Hitz said at the end of the October meeting that the application did not include an important question about one’s lived experience with equity, and hearing from people of color would help with addressing the experience of students of color. “I think you want that,” she said. “The application process is really crucial for that.” 

DEI set the fourth Tuesday of every month as its meeting date, as well. 

DEI will meet on November 30 at 6 p.m. at Winona Senior High School. Community members may attend in person. 

The School Board will meet on December 2, at 6 p.m., at Winona Senior High School. Community members may make a public comment in person at the beginning of the meeting. Community members may also view a livestream of the meeting at https://winonak12mnus.finalsite.com/district/school-board/live-stream

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