I have nothing but respect for attorney Dan Shulman and believe that he is earnest in his desire to help close the achievement gap in Minnesota (“Suit seeks metro-wide school integration plan,” Nov. 6). However, as a Minneapolis resident whose children attended public schools over the past 20 years, I’ve had an up-close view of the city’s educational system. My daughter attended Southwest High School, which has a largely white student population, and my son attended Washburn High, which was predominantly minority at the time. Boundaries determined where my kids went to school, yet at both institutions, minority students were consistently underperforming their white counterparts, even where they were in the majority. Drawing boundary lines alone will not change this.

The problems come before school starts, where children are not made “kindergarten-ready”; where they may not have enough, or healthy food, or where they may not have stable living environments. And although no one wants to say it, they may not have parents who read to them regularly and model good learning habits. The “whiteness” or “wealth” of a district only determines higher achievement because it is a politically correct code for parents who are involved in their children’s education. All studies show that, regardless of race, children whose parents are involved and come to school prepared thrive at school.

Instead of just redrawing lines so that minorities attend economically and racially integrated schools, Shulman’s legal effort should include seeking money for Head Start, free meals for students and early intervention when students are not making progress at the primary levels of their education. It should also include some expectation that parents of all students, including minority students, accept a level of accountability for their own children’s progress at school.

Teri Bentson, Minneapolis

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Over the years, the pendulum in school districts has swung between magnet schools and community schools. Arguments rage over which teachers should have to work in the “challenging” schools. Racial and economic gaps persist in student performance, and lawsuits are occasionally filed, as has happened again, to redraw school boundaries or bus more students. But the problems don’t go away.

A better, longer-term solution is to integrate neighborhoods themselves by providing high-density and subsidized housing in all areas throughout our cities. Some of this is happening as minority populations find homes in lower-cost suburban areas, but the pace of change is slow. In any case, I haven’t heard much discussion about integrated neighborhoods as the solution to integrating schools.

Most people in my neighborhood are like me — white and well-off. But if the best student experience would be going to school with classmates from a variety of economic and racial backgrounds, couldn’t (and shouldn’t) the families of these students live side-by-side as well?

Jeff Naylor, Minneapolis

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Before initiating a citywide school integration plan, Minneapolitans should study the results of the Chicago effort in the 1960s and ’70s to do likewise. The result was a rush to the suburbs by parents who did not object so much to integration, but objected to their children riding the bus up to an hour twice a day, making it more difficult for them to participate in after-school activities and for parents to be involved in PTA, etc.

It might be better to invest the money in upgrading the schools with better teachers and facilities than a citywide school bus service.

Jane M. Scanlon, Rochester



Reactions to the Keystone decision, BNSF counterpoint

I was pleased to see President Obama reject the Keystone XL Pipeline (StarTribune.com, Nov. 6). There was no logical reason to run a pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to our Gulf Coast that would carry the worst possible pollutant: tar sands sludge. The Canadians did not want to run it across their country and take a chance on an environmental disaster.

It would have made more sense for the pipeline to run across Alberta and British Columbia to their West Coast. Canada has contracted to send its sludge to China, and the ports in British Columbia are much closer for that purpose than is our Gulf Coast. Any jobs that would have been created would have been temporary. The refineries in Louisiana would have benefited somewhat, but how much would they have had to invest to be able to refine the sludge? PBS had a documentary on climate change this past week, hosted by Bill Nye, the “science guy.” It showed aerial views of the tar sands pits, and it was a horrible sight. The destruction of the land was enough to make one sick. I say if Canada wants to keep on destroying its land, go ahead, but we should not be expected to transport the sludge across our country for that country’s benefit and profit.

Wayne Terry, Battle Lake, Minn.

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A major benefit of the president’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline is that the Ogallala aquifer will now be spared of tar sands oil contamination should the pipeline ever leak as it passes over one of the most high-quality bodies of water anywhere. This aquifer supports residential needs as well as industrial and agricultural production in the Great Plains of the United States. Much of our food comes from there.

Michael Hyduke, Minneapolis

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BNSF’s Nov. 6 editorial counterpoint about oil-train safety (“BNSF goes far beyond ‘minimum’ rail safety”) was patronizing, offensive and disingenuous. Our community reviewed Federal Railroad Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and even Department of Defense data nationwide on rail safety. Ramsey County has one of the highest mishap rates per capita and one of the highest exposures of population to risks posed by a derailment of a Bakken crude-oil train. Operational risk controls and procedures are absolutely no substitute for an inherently safer design.

We called in two structural engineers who volunteered pro bono to evaluate the BNSF railroad bridge over Maryland Avenue on St. Paul’s North End two years ago. The BNSF bridge was dropping chunks of concrete onto our roadway. If the pieces fell through a car window, someone would have been killed. We had to get the Federal Railroad Administration engineers to tell BNSF to do the right thing.

Berkshire Hathaway owns both BNSF and Union Tank Car. So the monopoly has less incentive to upgrade to the inherently safer tank cars so long as companies can still buy the cheaper and uncrashworthy DOT-111 car. Don’t tell us you are preventing the hazard in the first place when you are still selling a tank car that the NTSB tells me is unsafe in a derailment accident.

David J. Sullivan-Nightengale, St. Paul

The writer is a safety engineer.



It’s not so easy these days to be a good Samaritan

A Nov. 6 letter writer, reacting to news of an incident Monday night at drive-through window at a Minneapolis McDonald’s, asks what it says about our society when someone takes a phone video of an assault instead of calling 911 or getting out of one’s car to help. In our current society of free-flowing guns, I would call 911, but I would not get out of my car to help. Maybe the assailant had a gun, and maybe he didn’t, but nonetheless, he was filled with a rage so uncontrollable that he choked an innocent fast-food worker.

Gone are the days when good Samaritans could come to the aid of their fellow man without worry of getting shot for their good deeds.

Diane E. Vorhis, Apple Valley