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Duluth School Board expels two Denfeld students

The Duluth School Board expelled two Denfeld High School students Tuesday following a closed meeting.

Harassment, threatening or intimidating behavior and bullying were the reasons given for the yearlong expulsions that began Tuesday. The students will be eligible to return to school in September if they meet several conditions determined by the district. Because of student data privacy laws, those conditions weren’t revealed Tuesday, nor was any other information about what led to the expulsions.

The actions taken by the board come less than three weeks after news of the creation and distribution of a racist photo by Denfeld students, although it is not known whether those expelled were the students involved in that incident. Two students were said to have been behind the photo of a black 10th-grader with a noose drawn around his neck and the words “gotta hang em all” written below the image. The photo spread through social media.

Sharon Witherspoon, the guardian and grandmother of the student pictured in the photo, has said punishment of the students involved in the incident should be “fair” and “equal” and that a lesson needs to come of what happened.

The district has taken steps to talk with students and the community about what happened, and will continue discussion at its upcoming Think Kids meetings.

At the School Board meeting following the closed session, the Denfeld student representative of the board, Thomas Olafson, said that the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial group paid to send the Denfeld sophomore class to a showing of the civil-rights drama “Selma.”

What happened at Denfeld, Olafson said, “does not reflect our school’s mentality. We are using it as an opportunity to learn.”

The expelled students and their families had waived their rights to board hearings.

Board approves preliminary budget The board, at its regular meeting Tuesday, unanimously approved next year’s preliminary budget. It allows for nearly $1.2 million in investments while accounting for the same in savings and reductions. About $600,000 would be used from the fund reserve to make half of the investments. Savings and cuts include the removal of last year’s one-time expenses of $375,000, which included curriculum alignment. There also is nearly $140,000 in new student revenue from the online school at the Area Learning Center.

Investments include $360,000 for more teacher collaboration time in elementary schools and $384,000 for the new online school. Money also will be spent on the the Ojibwe immersion program and the addition of an immersion specialist.

The board votes on the final, roughly $100 million operating budget in June. Final numbers from the state on what school districts will receive or must spend more money on will help determine whether the district can invest more, or must reduce some earmarked investments, Superintendent Bill Gronseth said.

Red Plan debt refinanced The board also unanimously ratified the refinancing of a portion of Red Plan debt, which will reduce the amount district taxpayers are levied by $150,000 a year for the remaining 12 years left to pay that debt. The total savings from refinancing are about $1.8 million.