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MDHR reaches agreements with ten school districts, charter schools to reduce disparities in suspensions for students with disabilities, students of color, charges filed against 2 districts

Collaborative agreements with districts and charter schools develop tailored strategies to retain local control of student discipline decisions, maintain safe environments that promote learning and development, and offer alternatives to suspension that keep students in school.

4/26/2018 2:34:00 PM

ST. PAUL, MN – Today, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) announced it has reached collaborative agreements with 10 Minnesota public school districts and charter schools to reduce the disparities in suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities and students of color and two school districts received charges of discrimination for educational discrimination.

The school districts and charter schools with settlement agreements include: Bloomington School District, Cass Lake-Bena School District, Mankato School District, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Robbinsdale School District, Best Academy Charter School, Dugsi Academy Charter School, Mastery Academy Charter School, Prairie Seeds Academy Charter School , and St. Paul City Charter School. The Department is continuing negotiations with additional school districts and charter schools and anticipates announcing another round of Agreements in the coming weeks.

“I want to thank the leaders of these 10 districts and charter schools for coming to the table, having productive conversations, and identifying their own solutions tailored to their independent communities to address the state-wide problem of disparities in discipline. These leaders are not alone with dealing with these disparities—but they are the first to stand up, lean in and drive toward solutions. In our meetings with school districts and charter schools, we heard time and again that Minnesota can do more to support our educators and students to achieve success in the classroom and in life. Kids simply can’t learn if they are not in school. These agreements are a crucial step in ensuring we are doing all we can to help Minnesota students develop their interpersonal and learning skills so they can thrive,” said MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.

The collaborative agreements aim to alleviate disparities in suspensions and expulsions to allow every student the chance to participate fully in their education, to partner with educators to address the implicit bias that influences perceptions of student behavior, and to increase student and community engagement. The agreements allow school officials to develop their own strategies to retain local control in student discipline decisions, maintain effective learning environments that promote academic success, and offer alternatives to suspension that keep students in school.

Educators, community leaders, and legislators from around the state reflect on the opportunity to create safe, positive environments for students while engaging parents, students, and school staff.

“There is no cause greater than providing a great education to all children,” said Superintendent Rochelle Johnson, Cass Lake-Bena Public Schools. “We must all find pathways to keep children in schools as well as make that school time a positive experience in their lives.”

As a State legislator and Director of the MN Education Equity Partnership (MnEEP), I welcome and support the recent collaboration agreements among several public school districts, charter schools and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to change school discipline practices that disparately punish students of color, American Indian students and students with disabilities,” said State Rep. Carlos Mariani Rosa, MnEEP Executive Director. “Closing academic gaps can’t be done without advancing civil rights and with the State’s help, our schools can do that while designing better ways to create safe schools where all students learn.”

“We are looking forward to working with partners such as the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to ensure a positive and supportive school climate where all students can develop their unique potential and positively contribute to their community,” said Robbinsdale Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins. “We must work together to address local, state, and national disparities so we can truly inspire and educate all of our children.”

As we work to eliminate disparate outcomes for students, we are pleased to collaborate with the MDHR and area districts to share best practices and elevate student voice,” said Superintendent Christine Osorio, School District 622, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale.

Too often in the field of education we find ourselves in the work of replication and not the work of reimagining. Classrooms today look like classrooms from 25 years ago and discipline practices today look like discipline practices from 100 years ago. The unquestioned belief is that school worked for me so surely it must work for all kids. The reality is that it does not. Too many kids are not accessing an equitable learning experience through no fault of their own. Education in 2018 requires new imagination and new ways of doing business. Restorative practices is one such reimagining. Instead of creating a transactional, power-centric school dynamic, restorative practices create a truly human dynamic that acknowledges that we all make mistakes. Instead of blame and shame, we need the chance to repair harm and reintegrate with our community, said Justin Tiarks, Principal at St. Paul City School. “We have spent the past three years exploring this new way of doing school to great impact. Since implementing restorative practices, we have seen a reduction in suspensions of 90% sustained over two years and we have not expelled a single child. We solve problems by pulling students and families into a web of support and community instead of pushing them away. With the right supports, alternatives to exclusionary discipline do exist. Our school community is safer and more connected than ever before. We are eager to continue working to do better for every child in our school and our state.”

"If students are away from school due to a suspension, then that's time taken away from their learning and not being able to achieve their potential,” said Warsame Warsame, Dugsi Academy educator and board member. “Although schools strive to have a calm and safe place for all students, it's equally important for schools to find solutions that keep our struggling students in the classroom. As a Board member and as a classroom teacher, I'm very pleased with the leadership role that Mary Stafford and the TrueNorth have taken in solving this issue. We are also thankful to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights for their leadership and support."

PACER supports the collaborative efforts of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, school districts, and charter schools to address discipline disparities,” said Paula Goldberg, PACER Executive Director. “Through our work with families of children with disabilities, we see the negative impact that exclusionary discipline practices have on students’ ability to learn. We appreciate that the agreements reached offer opportunities for parents, students, and school staff to work together to develop policies focused on maintaining positive learning environments that support improved academic outcomes for all students, including those with disabilities.”

The agreements between MDHR and these school districts and charter schools are in effect through 2021 and provide:

  • Districts and charter schools will implement a three-year plan to ensure that data collection, discipline policies and behavior management strategies are consistently implemented across the entire system;
  • Districts and charter schools will provide semi-annual reports to the Department to detail their efforts undertaken to implement their behavior management plan. Districts and schools will also account for the training provided to their personnel and the qualitative assessment of practices and policies;
  • Districts and charter schools will participate on a Diversion Committee created by MDHR in which they will share best practices to reduce suspensions and eliminate disparities, implement implicit bias training and increase student engagement; 
  • School Boards, Superintendents, Executive Directors and Principals will offer meaningful opportunities for parents, students, school personnel and the larger community to provide feedback concerning their discipline policies; and 
  • MDHR, in collaboration with MDE, will publish technical guidance on best practices to reduce suspension and expulsion disparities for all students.

The agreements do not involve student discipline decisions made by school officials when safety was a concern or a student was in possession of a weapon or illegal drugs. Rather, agreements focus on schools finding alternatives to suspension for challenges such as disorderly and disruptive behavior, verbal abuse and other non-violent offenses. 

More than a third of all suspensions and expulsion decisions reported throughout Minnesota every year are for ‘insubordination, disruptive and disorderly conduct.’ Examples of disrespectful behaviors could include swearing, rolling of the eyes, making inappropriate remarks or sounds in response to a request, walking away from a staff member before a conversation is over or talking back to a staff member.

Agreements also focus on universally communicating and implementing a school or district’s own policy, reliable data collection, shared definitions from classroom to classroom within a charter school or district, training of staff and measuring the effectiveness of whatever training they choose and with communicating with their students, parents and larger community about the school’s successes, goals and challenges.

Minnesota suspensions data reveal disparities, opportunities to address barriers

MDHR met with districts and charter schools last fall after reviewing five years of the most recent DIRS data, which is public data reported through the Minnesota Department of Education’s Discipline Incident Reporting System (DIRS). MDHR analysis of DIRS data showed that in Minnesota, students of color comprise 31 percent of the population, yet receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions; students with disabilities comprise 14 percent of the population, yet receive 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.

The DIRS data before the Department indicated that:

  • American-Indian students were ten times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
  • African-American students were eight times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
  • Students of color were twice more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
  • Students with disabilities were twice more likely to be suspended or expelled as their peers without a disability.

A report from the Government Accountability Office released this month had similar findings, concluding that black students, boys and students with disabilities were overrepresented in disciplinary action: “these disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended,” the GAO report said.

If you believe you have been discriminated against in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, please contact MDHR’s enforcement unit at 651.539.1100, 1.800.657.3704 or online at For more information about disability discrimination, please visit or follow the conversation on Twitter at Twitter at @mnhumanrights.


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