Activists want disclosure in Mpls. Washburn High doll incident

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2013 - 9:04 PM

A group of black community activists and several Washburn High School parents and alumni Tuesday criticized how the district handled an incident in which a dark-skinned doll was hung by a string, saying they want more information about how it unfolded.

The group of about 15 also wants to know why Minneapolis Public Schools didn't inform parents until five days after it happened on Jan. 11. They asked the district to release internal communications from that day as well as the security camera video that captured the incident.

Tensions flared and after-school activities were canceled Thursday after word of what happened became public. A community meeting is scheduled at the school Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson didn't address the group's requests at a school board meeting Tuesday night, but did say the students' behavior didn't meet the standards she expects for Minneapolis schools. "This incident has deeply saddened, angered and hurt me and affected our entire community," Johnson said.

Johnson said she'll attend the community meeting Wednesday, and the district will make age- appropriate material available for parents to discuss the incident with children.

Parent Maren McDonnell said her daughter, a senior, doesn't feel safe at the school after the incident. "This was her school and they failed her," she said.

Activist Mel Reeves said he agrees with the district's proposed use of restorative justice, a process by which the victims of an incident speak directly to the perpetrators about the harm it caused.

"They need to understand why what they did is wrong," he said. "We want to sound the alarm so long and so loud that this doesn't happen again."

According to the district, the original suspensions of three to five days for the four students have been extended, but no decision has been made on expelling them. The doll was a prop for a school play.

At a news conference at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper offices Tuesday, the parent group made other requests, including: Washburn suspension and expulsion data by race and gender, a meeting with the Washburn staff to hear concerns about school climate, a copy of the school budget with emphasis on support for at-risk black students, and cultural competency training for the school staff led by an outside consultant.

Principal Carol Markham Cousins sent families a letter on Wednesday about the incident. The district sent out a notice on Thursday saying it had taken immediate action to address the situation on the day it happened. That e-mail was so plagued by technical difficulties that some members of a parent-staff site council arriving for a meeting Thursday were unaware of the incident. That meeting was canceled.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 • Twitter: @brandtstrib

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