Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 1, 2021.

Editorial: School-related vitriol is getting worse

Debate is expected, but harassment over policies has to stop.

At a September Eastern Carver County school board meeting, a fight broke out between two men who disagreed about whether students should wear masks. One was charged with assault.

During the same month, two Byron, Minn., school board members on opposite sides of the masking issue quit after facing a flood of public vitriol. Their superintendent, Michael Neubeck, said some community members have yelled insults at board members and their children, showing up at their homes and disrupting their workplaces.

And in Rochester, community members jeered school leaders last summer over a mask policy and anti-racism efforts. At that meeting, one man carried a rifle into the boardroom.

Nearly 70 Minnesota school board members resigned in 2021, about three times the resignations of a normal year, according the Minnesota School Boards Association. The organization attributes many of those early resignations to the stress caused by threats and harassment from constituents.

Similar scenarios are occurring in school districts across the country — so many that national school boards and superintendents groups issued a joint statement that said, “We oppose the increasingly aggressive tactics creeping into board and community meetings. We will never back down from the importance of freedom of speech, but we cannot — and will not — tolerate aggression, intimidation, threats and violence toward superintendents, board members and educators.”

We’d like to echo that message. Being passionate about issues affecting our children is fine. Having spirited discussions about school curriculum and policies is acceptable. But hurling insults and being verbally and physically threatening or violent is not. And it needs to stop.

What kind of lesson does screaming, harassing or bullying teach to our children? What example does that awful behavior set for students?

This isn’t the first time the Star Tribune Editorial Board has urged Minnesotans to reject this ugly, counterproductive trend. Nearly 20 months of anxiety and tension over multiple issues — everything from COVID-related mask policies and remote learning to school closings to budget cuts — are driving some talented Minnesotans away from public service. And the nasty, aggressive pushback from communities is preventing others from even considering stepping up to serve.

Whether they are teachers or school board directors, city council members or state legislators, elected officials should not have to be fearful of doing their jobs. It’s both revealing and disappointing that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland had to defend an October memo condemning threats and violence after it became a target of congressional Republicans.

As Education Minnesota President Denise Specht rightly pointed out last week in a Star Tribune Opinion commentary, unruly citizens should remember that the educators they attack are “neighbors, the folks in the next booth at the coffee shop, the fans in the stands with you at the basketball game. We’re all part of the same communities.”

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Mankato Free Press. November 3, 2021.

Editorial: Education: U free tuition plan bold move for equity

The University of Minnesota has taken an important and bold step toward creating equity in education by offering free or discounted tuition to many of its Native American students.

Much of Minnesota belonged to Native Americans before the white settlement of the 1800s. Treaties to trade land for goods and food between Native Americans and white settlers, such as the Traverse des Sioux Treaty, were fraudulent and deceptive.

At one time, federal law required Native Americans be vanquished from the state.

While white society can never pay reparations equal to harm done to Native Americans, it’s time white society started paying some of what Native Americans are due.

The university has long had a policy of providing free tuition to students at its Morris campus due to it being the site of a Native American boarding school with a troubled history. But now, the free tuition will apply to all university campuses. The free tuition will go to families who have household incomes under $75,000 per year and tuition will be reduced by 80% to 90% for those who earn up to $125,000.

The program will begin in fall of 2022, and annual tuition at the university is about $15,000 a year.

Free tuition is a good start, but Native American leaders said they would like to see all Native Americans, not just enrolled members of 11 Minnesota tribes, be eligible.

The program will not only give Native Americans access to higher education in numbers that were not possible before, but it also will allow Native American voices and culture to grow in higher education.

We would urge the Minnesota State system of university and community colleges to offer a similar plan. Such a plan would be even more appropriate for Minnesota State University and South Central College, as they were established in a city with the troubled history of the unjust hanging of the 38 Dakota at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War, and the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The University of Minnesota effort to lower barriers to Native Americans getting higher education in the state is a good start to creating educational equity that has been lacking for generations.

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Albert Lea Tribune. October 29, 2021.

Editorial: Remember who will ultimately be affected by upcoming vote

While some have voiced loud and clear that they intend to vote against this request, we ask that all reconsider, as this vote has the potential of drastically impacting our children in the community.

The district this year has already cut about $846,000 from its budget, including the reduction of 11 licensed staff and one non-licensed staff member. Last year, it cut the budget by almost $765,000, including eliminating four full-time special education lead teachers, three full-time paraprofessionals, one high school assistant principal, two full-time high school teachers and one full-time elementary section. Other cuts have included eliminating contracted business office support, eliminating department chairs, eliminating the high school parking lot attendant, reducing media centers supply budgets and replacing the Southwest assistant principal with a dean.

Though the district was able to take advantage of retirements, resignations and non-renewals in its reductions in personnel, that does not mean the cuts have gone unnoticed.

If the referendum does not pass, these cuts will only deepen, and the district will have to make an additional $2 million in cuts. These would be cuts that would continue forward year after year until the levy is passed.

District administration have identified several things that might be at risk. They have talked about reinstating activity participation fees and student admission fees — right now the district allows families to only worry about paying what they can afford for their student to participate in a sport or activity and the district allows students to attend activities for free. The district has talked about reinstating high school parking fees, canceling work on computer networks and planned replacement of technology, eliminating concurrent enrollment tuition and AP exams. It could also cut a gifted/talented coordinator, five resource specialists, a middle school counselor, a high school/ALC social worker, a director/coordinator, dean, administrator and 16 full-time teachers.

The elimination of the teachers alone would have a dramatic ripple effect on class sizes, and taking away the resource specialists, counselor and social worker could take away the very support our students need after an emotionally-taxing year with COVID-19.

We think it’s also important to remember that renewing this referendum will not increase people’s taxes as long as your property values stay the same; in fact, they might decrease some because the district is seeing a slight decline in enrollment.

We recognize that many are frustrated with rising taxes in the community, and compounded with rising property values, at times it may seem that taxes are out of control. However, we do not think it is fair to hold that against this issue, as the district is only asking for a renewal of what was already in place — not more.

While we also acknowledge that there are some in our community who are upset with some members of the school board or its superintendent because of things like COVID-19 quarantine policies, mask mandates or recent behaviors at school board meetings, we hope people can recognize that the referendum and these recent disagreements are separate issues.

Voting against a renewal of this referendum is not going to solve any of the problems people are upset with — it is only going to make things worse.

At the end of the day, it will hurt dozens of teachers in our community, the quality of education in our district and most importantly, our children.

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