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Letter: Racism is alive in Mahnomen schools

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

The recent failure of the Mahnomen School Board to renew the contract of first-year high school principal, Susan Ninham, imposed their will on the entire community, demonstrated their unwillingness to address specific grievances, opened themselves to the charge of racism and revealed a limited vision of their responsibility to the students they purport to serve. If education is the proper general term defining institutional learning, it further implies the guidance and training intended to develop a person's full capacity and intelligence.

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Ninham had identified the lack of professional role models, a need for a deeper knowledge of culture and history, and a gap in achievement and graduation rates. Apparently, she also advocated for students who had been treated unfairly by racist teachers. Although nearly 65 percent of the student population is Native American, the board put their personal agenda before the needs of the majority.

According to the news report, students had complained that two teachers in the school did not grant bathroom breaks to Native students. What motivates a teacher to deny certain students access to the toilet?

It's easy to deny institutional racism exists in Mahnomen if you are a member of the group that enjoys white privilege.

Perhaps students should present the school with a report card based on how they view the performance of the staff and the board. If the board really believes they are not exhibiting white privilege and/or institutional racism they should poll the student body. The administration should have a meaningful dialog about institutional racism and schedule a series of effective diversity training workshops.

A student is more than a warm body that can be counted (more than once) to increase state and federal funds and support athletic programs. A student is a sacred being trying to find balance in a world askew. They deserve to be treated with consideration and respect. For the walkout/boycott to be effective it should occur on a student count day and impact school funding.

In persistent neglecting the well-being of an entire group of students, the board is guilty of emotional abuse. Such a body does not serve the best interest of all the students. Perhaps one could make the case that the board is infringing on the civil and human rights of students being denied a quality education in the public schools. There are attorneys who specialize in this kind of misuse of authority and official misconduct.

Ninham has successfully garnered the support of the community, staff, parents and most importantly, district students. She tried to bridge a cultural gap that had been in place for many years. She tried to address specific complaints of racial insensitivity. She tried to keep students in school and instill pride in their heritage. She worked to reduce the number of failing students and made gain in discipline issues. But the board forced an insurmountable standard upon Ninham when they expected her to achieve in seven months what had taken several decades to develop.

Yours in the struggle for truth, peace, justice and human dignity. -- Anne M. Dunn, White Earth

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