What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Washburn cancels after-school activities in wake of racial incident

Posted by: Suzanne Ziegler under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: January 17, 2013 - 5:40 PM

Washburn High School today canceled after-school activities, including a basketball game, because of safety concerns following an incident in which four students dangled a dark-skinned doll by its neck with a piece of string in a school stairway.

The district said the four students were disciplined but it didn't say how, citing school privacy restrictions.

The incident was caught on security cameras and students posted visuals of it on social media sites.

Spokesman Stan Alleyne said the incident took place in the hallways last Friday and lasted 15 to 20 minutes.

A handful of parents and community activists gathered at the school Thursday afternoon, expecting to be able to attend a site meeting. But that meeting was canceled along with the other activities so they met briefly with school officials, who promised to have a community meeting about the incident. 

The incident is embarrassing to a district that, despite uneven academic results, prides and markets itself as a place where students are amply prepared in a multi-racial world.

“This is an extremely disturbing occurrence … such insensitive behavior is intolerable in our school and school district, Principal Carol Markham-Cousins said in an e-mail to parents Wednesday.

The school cancelled after-school activities Thursday, including the site council meeting, according to school board member Kim Ellison, who said the administration told her it had safety concerns.  "I would hate to have my child in the situation," said Ellison, whose daughter attends a different city high school.

One black parent heavily involved in the school’s parent leadership refused comment. “There are a lot of facts that are still missing,” said Michael DeVaughn.   

Markham-Cousins and the district said they were pursuing using restorative justice techniques for the disciplined students “to take responsibility for their actions.” Restorative justice is an alternative criminal justice approach outside of a formal court setting that typically brings offenders and victims together.  They discuss how actions affected the victim and how to repair the harm. 

“This is something that has taken some of the folks by surprise, and it’s angered many people, including young people,” Alleyne said.

Washburn has changed markedly in the last several years as the district has enforced attendance boundaries. Whites have replaced blacks as the school’s largest racial group, with white enrollment rising from 21 percent in 2008 to 46 percent last fall. Black share of enrollment fell from 51 percent to 27 percent, white Latino, and Asian populations held relatively steady.    
 

 

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