St. Paul Public Schools approves smudging policy

St. Paul Public Schools has approved a new policy that allows students and staff to use tobacco and other natural substances for smudging. 

The Board of Education on Tuesday, Aug. 23, approved a district smudging policy, recognizing the practice as a healing process that's cultural, not religious. Smudging is used in traditional American Indian ceremonies as a way to purify or cleanse the soul of negative thoughts, or a person or place. 

"Adopting a smudging policy demonstrates the recognition of the cultural wellbeing of our Native students. This recognition is an essential element of creating a safe space physically, mentally and spiritually for children to grow and learn in," Brook LaFloe of the Tribal Nations Education Committee said during a school board meeting. 

During the meeting, John Bobolink, supervisor of the American Indian Education Program, said: "I hope that this policy will be a spark and an inspiration for other districts to follow, and St. Paul will be that example."

Smudging will be allowed by both individuals and groups, but the ceremonies will need to be done under the direct supervision of a school staff member. 

The Board of Education on Tuesday also dropped its COVID-19 vaccine policy for staff. Previously, school employees had to be vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 weekly. But the board now says it's no longer an effective way to increase vaccination rates. Seventy-eight percent of employees are vaccinated, and the district will continue to promote vaccination but it won't be required.