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District to focus on curriculum after incident involving racist photo

The Duluth school district plans to improve education districtwide surrounding racism and culture after an incident in March involving a racist photo.

The Duluth school district plans to improve education districtwide surrounding racism and culture after an incident in March involving a racist photo.
Since the incident at Denfeld High School - in which a noose was drawn around a student’s neck in a photo distributed on social media - the Duluth chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among other groups, has asked for curriculum that would help eliminate racism, and for professional development of staff to better reach students of color.
Duluth’s curriculum director, Mike Cary, has met with members of the NAACP, the African American Men’s Group and the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial organization. Many of those members were at Tuesday’s education committee meeting, where they talked about the importance of such work.
Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial co-chairman Rogier Gregoire said the district in 2008 adopted curriculum from the organization for the high schools, but it wasn’t widely used.
“I recognize that it’s not easy to take curriculum and make it effective,” Gregoire said, adding that this highlights how much work is needed and the need to keep trying. “This is not a cultural competency issue; it’s a moral competency issue that needs to be addressed.”
Cary said teachers needed to be trained to understand such curriculum and to be confident in its use.
“I personally feel like we do need to have a greater focus on how we work with students across all of our cultures,” he said.
Some of that work will begin this summer, said William Howes, coordinator of the district’s Office of Education Equity. But the education focusing on the 1920 lynching of three men in Duluth is only a piece, he said. There are many topics to teach - including those about culture - and it needs to begin in kindergarten, he said.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said the need wasn’t just about the incident at Denfeld - things happen throughout the district, he said - and that the groups will work together to bring forward a proposal for the board.
Cary said the work would likely take some time to get right.
Sharon Witherspoon, a member of the NAACP and grandmother of the student depicted in the altered photo, said she “appreciated the beginnings of a good thing.”

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