South St. Paul Public Schools employee resigns after child porn arrest, district says

South St. Paul Public Schools employee resigns after child porn arrest, district says

4 things to know from March 20, 2023

4 things to know from March 20, 2023


SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — A South St. Paul Public Schools employee has resigned after the district said he was arrested on child pornography charges.

In a letter sent to parents March 13, the district said it is cooperating with local police and other agencies in the investigation.

The letter said there does not appear to be a connection to any students from the South St. Paul district.

The district has released the name of the employee and said he did not have direct contact with students. WCCO typically does not name arrested parties until they are formally charged with a crime.

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After failed bond request, South Washington County seeking input on school facility plans

After failed bond request, South Washington County seeking input on school facility plans

In the wake of voters rejecting a $462 million bond request last year, South Washington County School District officials are seeking public input in developing a new facility plan to handle increased enrollment at its schools.

The $426 million bond request — the biggest ever in Minnesota — was rejected by a vote of 14,834 to 7,782 on Aug. 9.

“We asked for what we needed,” Superintendent Julie Nielsen said in October. “But I would say that August was probably the perfect storm as we look at what was going on with the economy, returning to school and the largest ask in the state of Minnesota. All of those things played a role in the unsuccessful bond. We knew that it was a big ask for our community, and so this allows us the opportunity to kind of reflect on what we did, and move forward, hopefully, with a plan that our community can support.”

The district announced this week that it is holding a series of community meetings to seek public input on a new plan.

• 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 21 at Cottage Grove Middle School. During this meeting results of a community survey and demographic study will be reviewed. Details of how the facility planning process will work will be shared and feedback from the community will be gathered.

• 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 25 at Oltman Middle School. A preliminary facility plan will be shared and community feedback will be gathered.

• 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 23 at  East Ridge High School. The final facility plan will be reviewed and community feedback gathered.

School officials said the resident survey can be seen here and the presentation of the survey can be watched here. In addition, a demographic survey of enrollment projections for the district can be viewed here along with a slide deck of the survey here.

The school district spans parts or all of Cottage Grove, Newport, St. Paul Park, Woodbury, Afton, Denmark Township and Grey Cloud Island Township.

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Students urge University of Minnesota to better fund scholarship, Native American studies 

Students urge University of Minnesota to better fund scholarship, Native American studies 

Students and activists protested in the freezing cold to urge the University of Minnesota to follow through on promises to tribal communities. At the top of their list was an expansion of a tuition program that they say too few can access. 

“[It] is kind of frustrating and hard for the students that are here already and aren’t getting the support that we feel like we need,” said Laila Gourd, a sophomore from the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota. 

A new tuition support program for the U’s campuses, including the Twin Cities, began last fall, but it has limits. 

The university’s Morris campus has had a full tuition waiver program for all American Indian students since its inception, as stipulated by federal legislation and Minnesota statute due to the site’s history as a former boarding school. In 2021, the university announced the Native American Promise Tuition Program to extend tuition support for Native students attending its four other campuses. 

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At the time, University president Joan Gabel said the “program is a meaningful step to increasing access and continuing to improve retention and graduation rates while closing opportunity gaps.” 

Unlike at Morris, the new program offers free or reduced tuition, depending on family income, limited to enrolled members of Minnesota’s 11 federally recognized tribal nations. Students must also be first-year undergraduates or transfer students from tribal colleges.  

Eighteen of 146 Native freshmen received funding through the Native American Promise Tuition Program in fall 2022, according to reporting by the Star Tribune

Students listen at protest.

Students with the American Indian Cultural Center listen at a protest outside the University of Minnesota on Friday.

Feven Gerezgihar | MPR News

“The university isn’t doing a good job with keeping their relations with Native American students,” said Gourd. She said the tuition program excludes displaced Lakota and Dakota people forced to settle in what are now other states.

The American Indian Student Cultural Center organized the protest Friday with the U’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. They want to see the tuition program extended to include current undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, as well as descendants of all federally or state recognized tribal nations. 

“It is just insanely inadequate for the fact that the University of Minnesota is a land grab university,” Sorcha Lona, an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society. “It owes its Native students free tuition.”

Universities, including the U of M, profited from the sale and leasing of land taken from Dakota people in the 1800s, detailed in landmark reporting by High Country News. Minnesota researchers from tribal nations and at the University are preparing a report recommending how the U should improve its relationship with Native communities.

The protest of around 30 people also drew members of the UMN Teamsters, Anti-War Committee, and the American Indian Movement.

“Many students who currently qualify for the Native American Promise Tuition Program are receiving a large share of support from other existing programs from federal, state and University sources,” said University Relations spokesperson Jake Ricker on Friday. “I think it’s worth reiterating something the University has said previously about this program, which is in the very first year of its existence. This program does not represent completed work.”

In early March, the University of Minnesota requested funding from the state Legislature for a full tuition program that would expand eligibility. Gov. Tim Walz included the request in his revised budget plan released this week.

In addition to the tuition program expansion, students also seek more funding for the American Indian Studies department and Native-led student groups.

“Having better support for us by providing Indigenous faculty members would really be helpful,” said Taryn Long, from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, adding many courses in the major are inactive.  

“It’s good to know that the American Indian Studies Department was the first of its kind in the nation and the Cities…is, like, very Native populated. That was comforting to come into,” student Laila Gourd said. “But then also to see on the other side of that, how poorly the university tries to support these students is also tough.” 

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Group fitness classes aim to break stigmas

Group fitness classes aim to break stigmas

As part of a collaboration between MCAE and RecWell, two group fitness classes were offered this semester to encourage fitness among students of color.


David Monterroso

Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes allow students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) hosted recreational fitness classes on Feb. 6 and Thursday for students of color.

The fitness classes, held at the Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell), provided students of color with access to the gym to help them be mindful of their physical health. MCAE Director Fernando Rodriguez said he wanted students to see the resources RecWell offers, such as personal dietitians and rooms for cardio and weightlifting.

“It’s hard for students who are first-generation students of color who are already feeling isolated to go into the big rec center and then ask for help,” Rodriguez said.

When he was studying at the University of Minnesota, he said his fitness group gave him a sense of community he did not get from his classes and professors, so he wanted to provide a similar community with other students.

“I wanted to be really intentional about creating opportunities for the students that we serve to connect to the RecWell and their group fitness program,” Rodriguez said.

Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes are an important way for students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

“I hope by offering these classes that students of color will feel more comfortable exploring different forms of wellness and working out,” Brister said.

RecWell’s mission is to provide spaces for students to feel they belong, according to an email statement from RecWell to the Minnesota Daily.

“RecWell is proud to be able to accommodate inclusive co-curricular programs, such as the MCAE LLP gym classes,” the statement said.
Brister said the classes provide a level of comfort where students can have a good time and work out together.

“There is a level of comfort and understanding that we don’t have to excel, we can be silly and learn at the same time,” Brister said.

However, Rodriguez said he also wants to normalize the discomfort that may come with attending a group fitness class at RecWell. Since fitness spaces are typically predominantly white, some students of color fear judgment for acknowledging these spaces are also for them.

“Everyone feels like ‘yeah, we own this,’” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is that we are exposing students to that discomfort so that they can make meaning about that discomfort for themselves.”

MCAE hosted group fitness classes in 2020, but they were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rodriguez. Now, with enough resources and staff available to execute these classes, Rodriguez said MCAE was able to host an open house in the fall for all students to familiarize themselves with RecWell and group fitness.

“It takes a lot to get students to the gym,” Rodriguez said. “It’s scary for a lot of reasons, and even more from a representation aspect and being comfortable and seen in the community.”

Rodriguez said he hopes MCAE is able to provide more group fitness opportunities in the future.

Rodriguez said he also hopes by offering group fitness classes for students of color, students will see themselves represented in group fitness and will feel more comfortable and experienced to participate in and teach classes in the future.

Rodriguez was a group fitness instructor at RecWell when he was a graduate student at the University, and he said there were only a handful of instructors of color at the time.

“Nothing has changed from the time I was a group fitness instructor until now in terms of who attends these classes,” Rodriguez said. “I want to see our communities claiming space in these group fitness classes and working out and overcoming some of the barriers that it takes to get there.”

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Gov. Walz signs bill making school meals free next year

Gov. Walz signs bill making school meals free next year

Starting this fall, students at Minnesota schools will get free meals regardless of their ability to pay.

A bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Tim Walz provides more than $800 million in funding for school lunches and breakfasts over the next four years. A free meals program was one of the top priorities this session for the governor and DFL lawmakers, who say they want to craft a state budget that prioritizes education and families.

In the Webster Elementary School cafeteria Friday in Minneapolis, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said providing meals will give students without access to enough food at home a better shot at succeeding in school.

“For far too many of our young people, the school cafeteria has been a place of shame and stigma,” she said before Walz signed the bill into law. “Our students with lunch debts are students who skipped meals. Hunger is often invisible. It looks like distraction or tiredness or disinterest. It can be easy to miss the students who are falling behind because they’re trying to learn on an empty stomach.”

About 42 percent of public and private school students in Minnesota were signed up for free school lunches last year. The Hunger-Free Schools coalition estimates that one in every six children in the state lacks consistent access to nutritious food.

Minnesota is the fourth state to create a free school lunch program, Walz said. California and Maine have universal lunch programs, and Colorado voters in November approved a new tax on the wealthy to pay for meals at participating schools.

The Senate approved the bill Tuesday 38-26. The House did so on a 70-58 vote in February.

Supporters say the program will relieve financial stress on students and families, help kids do better in school, and reduce stigma and shame by guaranteeing all students access to the same food.

Other cafeteria options, such as snack bars where students can purchase items like sugary drinks, would not be covered. Neither would second servings of school meals.

Wayzata, the only school district in the state that does not participate in the National School Lunch Program, will not benefit.

Estimated costs to the state are $190 million next year and $213 million by 2027.

Some Republican opponents said the legislation will benefit people who can afford to feed their kids and don’t need the help. Others said the state would be better off spending money on improved literacy instruction.

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Gov. Tim Walz signs universal school meals bill into law

Gov. Tim Walz signs universal school meals bill into law

Full video: Gov. Tim Walz signs universal school meals bill

Full video: Gov. Tim Walz signs universal school meals bill


ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz put his signature on the universal school meals bill Friday afternoon, providing free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students, regardless of their parents’ income.

“As a former teacher, I know that providing free breakfast and lunch for our students is one of the best investments we can make to lower costs, support Minnesota’s working families, and care for our young learners and the future of our state,” Walz said. “This bill puts us one step closer to making Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to all of the legislators and advocates for making it happen.”

Schools must enroll in the federal program for free and reduced priced meals to qualify. Under this bill, the state would pick up the tab for the cost difference of covering everyone else who doesn’t qualify, which is estimated to be $388 million in the next two-year budget. It increases after that.

One in four food-insecure children don’t qualify for support under current federal programs, according to the nonprofit group Hunger Solutions Minnesota. Visits to food shelves hit a record high last year, exceeding the height of the pandemic in 2020.

The program could be operational by summer school in July.

California, Maine and Colorado have taken similar steps to provide universal school meals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some schools already have universal meals because they qualify for what’s known as Community Eligibility Provision, which covers the cost for everyone when more than 62% of students are eligible for the free and reduced-price program.

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