Chaska community brings concerns of racism to school board

Last week, FOX 9 spoke to students and staff at Chaska High School following a controversial social media post that was circulating within the community. Monday, the school board heard from dozens of parents and students who demanded action.

Community members lined up to address the board, following a series of incidents targeting African American students at Chaska High School. The most recent incident involved an image that circulated on social media showing the faces of 25 black students superimposed on Google Maps with the locator labeled “Negro Hill.”

“You guys know the racist incidents have been happening for years,” a Chaska High School sophomore said. “I’ve been racially profiled for little things at the school and I’ve never done anything.”

Dozens of parents shared stories of how their children have been discriminated against and bullied due to the color of their skin. Several parents even called for Superintendent Clint Christopher to step down.

“I will not put my son in a school district where he could be subject to being called the n-word or worse and not be able to defend himself,” said Taylor Hubbard, a graduate of Chaska High School and mother of young children.

By the end of the meeting, students presented a petition demanding the district implement equity initiatives. They said the petition had collected almost 500 signatures so far.

Following the public forum, board members went right into a discussion about an equity action plan which would outline specific action steps to make school safer for students of color. 

“We have no trust in you, my family has been disgustingly disrespected and we’ve withdrawn our children from the school,” said Amanda Peterson.

Peterson said she now drives her kids 30 minutes to go to school in a different district, after her six-year-old son was targeted by a classmate.

In a lengthy statement, the school district said in part, “Racism and bigotry have no place at Chaska High School… all of our students have the right to learn in a safe and respectful environment, and Eastern Carver County Schools is committed to ensuring this is true for every child who walks through our doors.”

Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl gave a follow-up statement Wednesday, outlining his feelings on the incident and the overall culture at Chaska High School. 

He said, in part, that he was "not completely aware of how much these incidents have negatively impacted our residents' lives," for which he apologized. 

He went on to outline three pieces of "measurable action" that he says the city hopes to complete soon including more access to implicit bias workshops, a city-school district meeting and facilitation group to bring together various agencies to remedy the issues. 

Here is the full statement from Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl:

On Monday night, I had the opportunity to attend the District 112 School Board meeting where many of our residents shared their personal stories about how discrimination and racism have impacted them and our community. I want to thank these residents for having the courage to stand up and speak. I must admit that prior to hearing these stories, and the challenges students in our School District have faced, that I was not completely aware of how much these incidents have negatively impacted our residents’ lives. It was a blind spot, and for that I apologize.

As the Mayor of Chaska, I speak for the City Council and our residents when I state there is no place for hatred, bigotry, racism or discrimination of any kind in our community. It will not be tolerated, and it must be addressed. Our children deserve to grow up in a community where they feel safe, appreciated, and where they do not have to worry about experiencing hatred of any kind. We owe that to our children and every resident.

Over 30 years ago, the four cities of School District 112 came together as part of the District’s Youth Development Plan to identify Core Community Values, which include Citizenship, Environmentalism, Generosity, Human Worth and Dignity, Integrity, Learning, Respect for Others, and Responsibility. This set of Community Values was adopted by each of the City Councils, along with the District 112 School Board. These core concepts were meant to serve as the foundation for who we are and what we stand for as a community. These values leave no place for hatred or discrimination.

Over the past several months, these values have been tested. Hateful incidents impact individuals, families, and friends in profound ways that challenge their sense of humanity and belonging. These are community issues that can only truly be addressed if we work together.

I am calling on all residents, administrators, faith organizations, local groups, and local businesses to come together and denounce all forms of hate, including racism and bigotry. It is going to take the commitment of our entire community to address these issues and be conscious about respecting every individual. We cannot allow our community to be defined by hate.

We need to take measurable action. While I will not pretend to know all the answers for how to move forward, we need to start somewhere. For that reason, the City of Chaska has already moved forward with three initial steps.

The City will be meeting with District 112 leadership to better understand the issues that we are facing and to discuss what steps we need to initially take to move us forward.

We are working with Twin Cities YMCA to bring an implicit bias workshop to Chaska. This excellent training is designed to address how our personal interactions are influenced by unconscious attitudes and stereotypes. The training will provide us with an opportunity to start a dialog.

We are working with a facilitation group to bring together the leaders across our community to spend time identifying root causes of these issues, ideas for how to address these issues, and the roles and responsibilities we must all take to implement real and lasting change.

An important part of these steps will be to deliberately involve our community members. We need to have voices from groups like our Human Rights Commission and a diverse representation of impacted individuals in these discussions. While none of these steps will be “the answer,” I believe these steps will help us start building the inclusive and welcoming community we all deserve.

We must stand as a unified voice against all forms of hatred. I urge you to support these efforts and be active participants. This important work will define who we are going to be into the future.