Prague’s new superintendent deals with racist incidents

Prague’s new superintendent Tim Dittberner said the district was taking action following two separate sport-related racist incidents – but he said the games would continue.

MINNEAPOLIS — The New Prague superintendent is heading into a week of fallout after racist comments and taunts at school sporting events directed at athletes from two other Minnesota schools.

On February 15, male hockey players in New Prague allegedly taunted a player at St. Louis Park, using racist language. On the same day, during a women’s basketball game between New Prague and Robbinsdale Cooper, people in the stands allegedly made monkey noises at several black female players.

On Thursday, Superintendent Tim Dittberner spoke with KARE11 reporter Kent Erdahl to talk about the incidents and the steps the district is taking to address them.

Kent Erdahl: “What do you know so far about these two incidents and what measures have been taken?”

Tim Dittberner: “The first incident was St Louis Park, during the hockey game. An investigation was quickly made, appropriate measures were taken with the players involved, and so there were consequences with that. There are still , with Cooper High School (girls basketball), an investigation is open at this time. We have a third party still conducting interviews today. Hopefully this will be done by tomorrow (Friday).”

Erdahl“One involves players, the other allegedly involves students or maybe others in the stands. Is that why it’s more complicated?”

Dittberner“Yeah, it had nothing to do with the players or the coaches on the pitch for either team.”

Erdahl“We’ve now seen both schools take action that, frankly, we don’t see very often in Minnesota, saying they weren’t going to play your teams. What’s your reaction to that and what do we do? now in response to that?”

Dittberner: “I spoke to Dr (Astein) Osei, the superintendent of St Louis Park. We connected, we had a great conversation. I completely understand where they are coming from. Their first objective at the moment, since the incident – for which we take 100% responsibility – they have to keep their children safe, in a safe environment, and they just don’t think right now that it’s better for them, which is why I can have empathy. But we also talked about that, to move forward we have to turn that negative into a positive. You know, we talk about the consequences that have already been done, but we also have to repair the harm .

Erdahl: “You talk about repairing injuries and schools having to keep their players safe. Have you considered suspending athletics?”

Dittberner“No, we haven’t, but we’ve reached out to other school districts.”

Erdahl“How do you reassure schools right now that they have a safe environment to compete in?”

Dittberner“We’ve spoken to our student athletes, our principal has done a great job of reaching out to the whole student body. We have listening sessions and we’re in communication with them and I think that’s something that, what happened, we denounce it, but we will move forward and improve the situation in which we find ourselves.”

Erdahl“In your opinion, how far does this go? How prevalent is this beyond sport in New Prague and how much of the problem needs to be addressed on a broader level?”

Dittberner“You’re right, it’s not just in a sporting environment, but I think just like other schools, we have these issues and we have to deal with them. What we’ve done so far, we We have to change our response because it hasn’t been good enough. It’s going to be a process, but you’re right, it’s not just in sports, it’s also district-wide.

Erdahl: “Is it planned to involve the whole community in these discussions?”

Dittberner“Yeah, that’s definitely a possibility. We also talked about community discussions.”

Erdahl“Robbinsdale, in his statement, said he would like to see the Minnesota State High School League take this seriously. Have you had any discussions with the high school league?”

Dittberner“Yeah, we’ve had conversations with Erich Martens, the principal (of MSHSL), who’s reached out to us. You know, I think the High School League will want us to be able to communicate and work together, bring the two Ce stuff is spreading across the state and across the country right now, the issues that we have with race and equity and stuff like that, and just the lack of respect, that we’re going to have to figure out I think if we can do something together, we can make a change for the better for our state, for the High School League and beyond.

The Minnesota State High School League did not respond to multiple inquiries from KARE 11 regarding the incidents in New Prague, but on Thursday the MSHSL joined the Minnesota School Boards Association and several other groups, sending the following note to Minnesota schools:

Recently, students, schools and communities have experienced racist events that tell us that as school leaders we have more work to do. Maltreating anyone on any basis is not only intolerable, it is something we as education leaders unequivocally condemn. Racial, religious or sexual harassment is simply unacceptable in our schools. The goal of safe and supportive school environments is of paramount importance. It is essential that every effort is made and steps taken to ensure that all students have a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities. In addition, victims of racist words or acts need help. Together, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to learn and participate in activities.

To this end, the educational organizations listed below will launch an initiative to improve behavior at events in high schools as well as in schools in general. With the help of professional partners, this initiative will include:

• Organize student groups to develop a model code of conduct for all schools. Once developed, this code will be distributed to school boards, administrators, coaches, parents, and students across the state. The code will cover all aspects of participation in activities as well as school. It will include activities, athletes, spectators, staff, students and parents.

• Organize a student conference, through MSHSL, MASSP and MNIAA, involving student leaders involved in athletics, fine arts and other activities to raise awareness of student conduct, bullying, gender, race and other issues and help develop tools for all schools.

• Identify and provide resources to help schools and administrators plan, prepare, and implement best practices to address and eliminate these harmful behaviors and support students and others affected.

Schools will continue to promote and enforce existing rules of conduct through district policies prohibiting racial harassment of any kind and through Regulation 209 of the MSHSL Rules which expressly prohibits racial, sexual, or religious harassment. Violations of the policy result in loss of student eligibility.

The listed organizations will continue to work directly with our schools to combat these behaviors and will keep schools and interested parties informed of the progress of these efforts. Together we will make the difference.

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Berta D. Wells