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State, Rochester Schools Reach Agreement on Discipline Disparities

September 06, 2018 09:58 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- The Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Rochester Public Schools have a signed agreement to address discipline disparities between white students and students of color, Native American students and students with disabilities.

The agreement, approved by the school board on Tuesday, includes a number of steps to reduce those disparities, including ongoing professional development for staff, implementing consistent office referrals across the district and a number of community engagement steps.

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The district is one of 43 identified by the state last year as having significantly higher suspension rates for non-white students. The vast majority have since signed agreements with the state.

Supt. Michael Muñoz said with the district's three-year agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education set to expire at the end of the year, the new agreement with the state will continue their work but change who they send their data to. He said data shows improvement over the past few years but highlights there's a lot more room to improve.

"Preliminary data shows that fewer kids are missing instruction time which is to be the first step, and then we have to make sure we look at making sure that we reduce the disparities that we currently have," Muñoz said.

MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, who participated in a listening session in Rochester in July, said he's glad the parties have come to an agreement, noting officials in other states are closely watching Minnesota as a possible model for other parts of the country.

"We think that we have a good agreement that's going to reduce disparities in the area of suspensions and will lead to better educational outcomes for all students within the school system," he said.

Kamau Wilkins, a member of the district's community focus team and Rochester for Justice, said he still has concerns, especially with the district's communication with those most impacted by the plan. When reached by phone Thursday afternoon, he said he hadn't been aware an agreement had been reached until a reporter asked him for comment.

Wilkins said it's unfortunate the district has to enter into yet another agreement to address the issues.

Muñoz said the district is committed to eliminating disparities and helping students achieve the best possible educational outcomes and that the 43 districts working with the state plan to exchange ideas and discuss what's working and what isn't. However, he stressed a one-size-fits-all solution isn't feasible.

"A lot of people believe there's a silver bullet that will fix it," he said. "There isn't a silver bullet, there are so many things that factor into these disparities so I tell people this is really a marathon, it's not a sprint."

While the district is not required to meet specific benchmarks in a fixed timeframe, they are required to submit discipline data twice per year for state monitoring.

The full agreement can be found here.

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Logan Reigstad

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