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Star Tribune writers tracking education issues

St. Louis Park High School newspaper sues district for video footage

The St. Louis Park High School newspaper, The Echo, is suing the school district and superintendent to obtain security footage of a November incident where a senior student allegedly pulled a hijab off another student’s head.

The suit filed against St. Louis Park Public Schools and Superintendent Rob Metz states that both parties are violating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by not providing the video of the incident. It argues that the footage is needed for news coverage.

On Nov. 14, a female student reported to school officials that her hijab had been pulled. School officials then held a mediation session between the female student and the football player who allegedly pulled her hijab. During the mediation, the senior football player allegedly stated that he did not pull the student’s hijab. The coach of the football team was present in the meeting while the female student did not have any representation, according the suit. 

Christopher Seidl is one of the lawyers representing the student-run online and print publication. Seidl has worked on first amendment issues in the past.

“They are simply seeking the truth about what happened in the hallway on Nov. 14,” he said.

The school district released a statement claiming that the information is private data.

“St. Louis Park Public Schools has a responsibility to comply with the laws relating to student information and to protect personally identifiable information related to our students,” the statement reads. “We take that responsibility seriously.  The school district clearly informed The Echo of our responsibility under the applicable law and fulfilled our responsibility when we advised The Echo that the information they requested was not accessible to them.”

School officials have been unwilling to meet with the newspaper staff on the issue, according to the suit. The Echo staff had requested documents related to the incident in November and December but the documents were heavily redacted. 

Schools and colleges reported several incidents of harassment following the election of President Donald Trump in November. 

Enrollment slide continues in St. Paul

Enrollment figures posted this month by the St. Paul Public Schools show that the number of students who generate state funding dropped from 37,605 in October 2015 to 37,042 in October 2016.

That is the biggest yearly decline in the three years since former Superintendent Valeria Silva launched her Strong Schools, Strong Communities district reorganization plan.

Silva hoped the shift in emphasis from districtwide magnets to neighborhood schools, plus other changes, would boost enrollment by 3,000 students. But a year-to-year review shows that the number of kids who produce revenue increased just once, during the 2014-15 school year, and then by only 19 students.

She was not alone in her optimism.

About two years ago, the district contracted with Hazel Reinhardt, a former state demographer, to project enrollment as part of a long-term facilities plan. Reinhardt's forecast was for slow, steady growth beginning in 2014-15, and the opposite has occurred.

Expect to see increased attention to district enrollment in the coming months.

The district's Department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment is crunching numbers in anticipation of a potentially harsh 2017-18 budget season.

Board Member Steve Marchese, who raised questions last spring about the fate of community schools in an era of increased school-choice competition, said he expects the board and a new superintendent to give parts of Strong Schools, Strong Communities a fresh look.

How that comes about remains to be seen. In the meantime, Marchese said, the district will seek to build faith and confidence in its offerings.

"My hope is we continue to improve the perception of our schools and the experience of our students in those schools," he said.