'It's unacceptable': Racist image circulated through Chaska High School

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An image circulating on social media has some people at Chaska High School upset and it’s not the first time the district has dealt with a controversy concerning race.

The district says it caught wind of the incident last week. They launched in investigation, reaching out to students and families personally affected. However, those with loved ones in the district say a passive approach is not the way to end the pattern of problems.

“Finding about this was just a smack in the face,” said Emily Flower, an educational advocate.

The image circulated on social media at Chaska High School last week. It stunned Eastern Carver County School District parents, teachers and students.

The image shows the faces of 25 black students identified and superimposed on a Google Maps image with the locator labeled, “Negro Hill.”

“It’s serious and it needs to be treated seriously,” Flower added.

This is the latest in a series of racist incidents targeting African American students at Chaska High School.

“Every time something like this happens, every student is affected,” Flower said.

Flower has nephews in the district, one of whom has also been harassed because of his race.

“It’s been continuous and documented for two full school years. There was a group of kids that called him monkey for a long time and there was nothing done about it,” she said. “And the most recent issue was profanity, racial profanity, written on his gym t-shirt. And the school claimed they couldn’t determine who did it.”

Flower’s other nephew has faced backlash for publicly opposing racism, she said.

“His brother started speaking out and suffered targeting and repercussions and has been bullied about it since then,” Flower said.

“It’s disturbing, it’s disgusting,” said District Superintendent Clint Christopher. “It’s unacceptable and it’s certainly not tolerated.”

Christopher went on to say, “There’s issues we need to address, but they certainly don’t reflect our community, our school or our district. But certainly, the lived experience of some of our students is not where it needs to get better.”

While Christopher says the students responsible for posting the image faced significant consequences, Flower is concerned racist behavior is being treated as a minor slip in judgment district-wide.

“I don’t think that if it were the principal or some staff members’ kids who were being terrorized by a group of black students, those students wouldn’t’ continue to be students at the district,” Flower said.

The Superintendent also said he can’t go into detail about how the students behind the image were disciplined due to privacy laws, but he says the district will not tolerate this behavior.

The district is also in the process of looking for a new equity coordinator.

The Mayor's proposals

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.