Minnesota board stalls addiction help for minority students


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A southern Minnesota school district is expected to vote Monday on a $1.1 million state grant meant…

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A southern Minnesota school district is expected to vote Monday on a $1.1 million state grant meant to help curb drug use among students of color after a pair of board members delayed accepting the money by arguing it could discriminate against white students.

At least five members of the seven-person Faribault school board say they will vote in favor of accepting the funding when it comes to a vote Monday evening, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. In November, four of the board’s members had been deadlocked in a vote after two members argued that programs specifically for students of color were unfair to white students.

The district serves Faribault, a city of 24,000 people 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 the school district’s students are people of color.

A mother from the Somali community approached the school board last summer with concerns about drug use among youth in her community, and the district applied for a $1.1 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to curb drug use among Black, Indigenous and other students of color.

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

In the past, funding measures for stopping drug abuse among students have been accepted without objections from the board, but two board members took issue with it during a Nov. 21 meeting

“Would we ever go after a grant that only targeted whites with hopes that it would trickle down to our BIPOC community? Would we do the opposite? And I don’t think we would,” Board Member LeeAnn Lechtenberg said at the meeting.

She, along with Board Member Richard Olson voted against the program. Their objections deadlocked the board, which had four members at its meeting. The full board is expected to reconsider the program Monday.

Board Member Jerry Robicheau missed the November meeting because he was out of the country. He said he will vote to accept the funding Monday because it will help students and families struggling with drug addiction.

“To do anything less than that is a dereliction of our duty to provide a quality education for our students,” Robicheau said. “Anything that benefits one group of individuals is going to benefit a much larger audience.”

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

Lechtenberg said she had reconsidered her objections to the funding after receiving assurances from community groups that no student struggling with substance abuse would be excluded from accessing services.

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