On Thursday night, the Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).
The agreement brings resolution to a charge of discrimination filed by MDHR in August of 2017. As stated in the agreement, the MDHR has not reached any finding that the district engaged in discrimination. WAPS initially denied, and continues to deny, that it engaged in discrimination as alleged in the charge.
In order to discuss all facets of the case and agreement, the school board met in closed session with its attorney for two hours on Thursday night, then discussed the agreement in open session before unanimously voting to approve the agreement. The decision to discuss this ongoing MDHR charge, potential responses to the MDHR settlement position, and other legal strategy was consistent with the school board’s authority to close a meeting to engage in attorney-client privileged discussion under the Open Meeting Law.
The agreement approved Thursday is not related to the earlier collaboration agreement that the district entered into with the MDHR in 2017. This agreement calls on the district to do several things, including:
- Provide staff development training on responding to student behavior, eliminating implicit bias and on anti-discrimination law, which the district already is pursuing under its equity plan.
- Offer training opportunities for students at Winona Senior High School and Winona Area Learning Center centered around promoting an atmosphere of equity and inclusion, and on the recognition and elimination of bias, harassment and bullying.
- Revise a school policy regarding the police-school liaison officer position.
- Update the agreement with the City of Winona regarding the police-school liaison officer position to clarify their role in the schools, require district training and allow for the district to request removal of an officer who fails to consistently comply with district policies.
- Update language in the WSHS student handbook regarding student discipline, provide the process for obtaining permission to hang posters and notices, and the presence and role of the police-school liaison officer.
The agreement is in line with much of the work already being done in Winona Area Public Schools to create an environment of equity and inclusion for all students. The district looks forward to collaborating with students, families, staff and the public in making Winona Area Public Schools a place where all are safe, valued and accountable to one another for success.