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Minnesota board accepts drug aid for minority students

FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) – A southern Minnesota school district voted Monday to accept a $1.1 million state grant to help reduce drug use among black students after a pair of board members delayed the acceptance of the money last month on the grounds that it could discriminate against white students.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that only one member of Faribault’s seven-person school board voted against accepting the funding on Monday, in a meeting that drew such a large crowd that district officials had to set up an overflow room.

Board member Richard Olson, who also opposed the funding in November, said the scholarship “doesn’t help all students.”

“This will pass. I know that. But he doesn’t have my support,” he said.

Six members of the public urged the board to approve the grant. Martha Brown, substitute teacher, said, “It should be a piece of cake.”

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the earlier council vote shook her confidence in the district’s ability to serve students of color.

“Not only do I urge you to vote for this, but I’m also concerned as we go forward that you don’t really want to make sure all of our students are successful,” she said.

In November, four board members were blocked in a vote after Olson and another member argued that specific programs for black students were unfair to white students.

The neighborhood serves Faribault, a city of 24,000 located less than an hour’s drive south of Minneapolis. About 73% of the city is white, but it also has significant Latino and black populations, including a Somali American community. More than 60% of students in the school district are people of color.

The district applied for the grant to the Minnesota Department of Human Services after a Somali community mother approached the school board last summer concerned about drug use among youth in her community. The funding is intended to address drug use among Black, Indigenous, and other students of color.

The department said in a statement that its data, along with conversations with community members, show that Black, Indigenous and other communities of color require dedicated efforts to address disparities in access to addiction treatment.

In the past, funding measures to stop drug abuse among students have been accepted without objection. But that was not the case on November 21st.

“Could we one day seek out a grant that is only for whites in the hope that it will come to our BIPOC community? Would we do the opposite? And I don’t think we would,” board member LeeAnn Lechtenberg said at the November meeting. Lechtenberg said she reconsidered her objections after receiving assurances from community groups that no student struggling with substance abuse would been barred from services.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, Superintendent Jamie Bente urged board members to accept the grant.

“I will look for any scholarship that helps any student. And if that excludes a certain group, we will be looking for money to help that group as well,” she said.

The funding would allow the district to hire a project coordinator, a media consultant and a youth coordinator, as well as pay six local organizations to survey the community on how best to prevent drug use.

The Associated Press

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