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Students to protest Ninham firing

Residents from Mahnomen are encouraging elementary and high school students to walk out of their final class period Thursday to protest the nonrenewal

of first-year High School Principal Susan Ninham's contract.

Residents conceived the protest at a three-hour discussion following the Mahnomen School Board meeting Monday night, at which board members voted to deny Ninham a new contract.

More than 100 residents showed up at the board meeting in support of Ninham, an Ojibwe who had suggested teacher complaints about her handling of conflicts with American Indian students might be racially motivated.

School board members denied race played any part in their decision to let Ninham go. They criticized her management style and her success in boosting attendance and graduation rates.

Damian Badboy, cofounder of the newly formed Anishinaabeg League for Better Education, said league members will address students Thursday in the high school parking lot. Members will update students on Monday's board meeting and let them know they could stay away from school in protest for stretches of several days.

"We would like to tell them a little bit about their rights and what they can do," said Karen Wadena, who added she planned to enroll her granddaughter, now a ninth-grader in Mahnomen, in the Waubun school district next year. "We can't tell them what to do because they're old enough to make decisions on their own."

Badboy said residents feel Ninham's firing compounds parents' existing grievances with the school district, where in his view native students have few American Indian role models and learn little about their heritage.

Superintendent Jon Kringen, who recommended the board grant Ninham a new contract, said Tuesday that he hadn't heard of the planned protest.

"I think it's unfortunate the whole thing is made into a racial issue by some parties," he said of the board's decision not to rehire Ninham, who couldn't be reached Tuesday. "Personally, I don't think it is."

He pointed out an American Indian culture elective at the high school and a weekly Sons and Daughters of Tradition activity as evidence the district is trying to address students' interest in learning about their heritage. He also stressed the school can't take race into consideration in hiring staff and teachers.

He said the district will listen to parents' concerns and address them.

"How are we going to reach out and begin the healing process - we haven't gotten to this point yet," he said. "It's fair to say there will have to be a dialogue."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529