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MN school district accepts $1.1 million grant for controversial outreach program

Wednesday December 7, 2022

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) — A southern Minnesota school district voted Monday to accept a $1.1 million state grant meant to help curb drug use among students of color, after a pair of board members had delayed accepting the money last month by arguing it could discriminate against white students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that only one member of the seven-person Faribault school board voted against accepting the funding Monday, at a meeting that drew a crowd so large that district officials had to set up an overflow room.

Board Member Richard Olson, who also objected to the funding in November, argued that the grant “does not help all students.”

“This will pass. I know that. But it does not have my support,” he said.

Six members of the public urged the board to adopt the grant. Martha Brown, a substitute teacher, said: “This should be a no-brainer.”

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the board’s previous vote shook his faith in the district’s ability to serve students of color.

“I not only urge you to vote for it, but I’m also concerned as we move forward that you’re not keenly interested in making sure all of our students are successful,” he said.

In November, four of the board’s members had been deadlocked in a vote after Olson and another member argued that programs specifically for students of color were unfair to white students.

The district serves Faribault, a city of 24,000 people less than an hour’s drive south of Minneapolis. About 73% of the city is white, but it also has significant Latino and Black populations, including a Somali American community. More than 60% of the school district’s students are people of color.

The district applied for the grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services after a mother from the Somali community approached the school board last summer with concerns about drug use among youth in her community. The funding is meant to address drug use among Black, Indigenous and other students of color.

The department said in a statement that its data, as well as conversations with community members, show Black, Indigenous and other communities of color require dedicated efforts to address disparities in access to treatment for addiction.

In the past, funding measures for stopping drug abuse among students have been accepted without objections. But that wasn’t the case on Nov. 21.

“Would we ever go after a grant that only targeted whites with hopes that it would trickle down to our BIPOC community? Would we do the opposite? And I don’t think we would,” Board Member LeeAnn Lechtenberg said at the November meeting. Lechtenberg said she had reconsidered her objections after receiving assurances from community groups that no student struggling with substance abuse would be excluded from services.

Before Monday’s vote, Superintendent Jamie Bente urged board members to accept the grant.

“I will go for any grant that helps any student. And if it leaves out a certain group, then we will look for money to help that group as well,” he said.

The funding would allow the district to hire a project coordinator, media consultant and youth coordinator, as well as pay six local organizations to survey the community on the best way to prevent drug use.


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