New students from Prague, community on recent racism

School superintendent Tim Dittberner said racist incidents in the district have increased in recent years.

NEW PRAGUE, Minnesota – At a school board meeting of New Prague Area Schools on Monday evening, members of the community joined the board to share their concerns about recent racist incidents involving students and ask what action the administration is taking to remedy this.

School superintendent Tim Dittberner said racist incidents in the district have increased in recent years, but officials are developing plans to prevent future acts of racism.

“I apologize on behalf of the school community for what happened, and while we take all reports of bullying and harassment seriously, and follow up on them by investigating them and taking appropriate action in accordance to district policy and state law, we must always be proactive and educate to prevent further incidents,” Dittberner said.

The pledge to take action against discrimination stems more recently from two separate incidents at sporting events, in which student-athletes from visiting schools were subjected to racist comments from students and officials. adults of New Prague. Both incidents happened Feb. 15 — one in a women’s basketball game against Robbinsdale Cooper High School and the other in a men’s hockey game against St. Louis Park.

Robbinsdale area schools and St. Louis Park districts have since announced that they will not compete with New Prague until further notice.

Dittberner told the meeting that an investigation into the women’s basketball incident is nearing completion and the district will issue a public statement upon its conclusion. But he said that despite the results of the investigation, New Prague “does not and will not tolerate hate speech and racism” in its schools.

“It’s up to us as school leaders to set expectations,” Dittberner said. “Hate, disrespect and bullying have no place in our schools. Every student should feel welcome.”

He added: “We can’t sit around and complain, and we can’t make excuses. We just have to do better.”

Dittberner said school administrators held listening sessions with students and the district was ready to act, developing a three-step plan he called “thoughtful and strategic” to ensure that the district to become “hate speech free”.

The first step in the district’s plan is to bring together a group of students, staff, parents, and members of the community at large to create a “school district climate task force.” Dittberner said the students involved will represent “multiple identity groups” in the schools, who will “back up their words with real action.”

The second step is to identify more resources and development for staff to plan, prepare, and implement best practices for “addressing and eliminating harmful behaviors” with the goal of supporting students and others affected by these behaviors. harmful behaviors.

The final step, Dittberner says, will allow the administration to work with student leaders in athletics, fine arts and other activities to raise awareness of issues such as proper conduct, bullying, race and gender, among others. .

“I believe our students and staff are ready to support change and cultivate an environment free of racism and hate speech,” he said.

The district also plans to work with the St. Louis Park School District — “when the time is right” — to lead the change they hope to see together at the state level.

Also at the reunion, Grade 10 Roman Griffin, a black New Prague High School student, said he and his classmates are ready to see this change.

“These issues are ongoing and have been happening for years,” he said. “The looks on everyone’s faces here honestly don’t concern me enough because the kids are coming home and dealing with these issues.”

He continued, “It’s affecting their learning, their livelihoods, their emotional stability and more. And people are still dealing with it. When are we actually going to do something about it?”

Other Minnesota schools have also dealt with the fallout from racist incidents recently, prompting the Minnesota State High School League to issue a statement last week.

“Racial, religious or sexual harassment is simply unacceptable in our schools. The goal of safe and supportive school environments is of paramount importance,” the MSHSL said in a statement. “It is essential that every effort is made and steps are taken to ensure that all students have a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities.”

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Berta D. Wells