On Tuesday afternoon, one of the Lakeville Area Schools’ internal emails made its way onto parents’ screens. It pertained to a letter dated September 15 and was addressed from the district’s director of administrative services to superintendent Michael Baumann.
“Recently a number of employees have inquired about the possibility of displaying Black Lives Matter posters in their classrooms,” the letter explained. “Based on an analysis and interpretation of School Board Policy 535… it is my conclusion that displaying such posters by employees in the workplace would be in violation of this policy.”
Basically, Policy 535 controls political campaigns and messages in the classroom. The district is supposed to “maintain neutrality to all political campaigns and issues,” and that includes apparent endorsement or opposition of issues by employees.
“While it may be the case that some employees are simply making a more generic non-political statement that ‘Black Lives Matter’ without intending to convey any political positions, it is nevertheless likely that there will be a perception on the part of others that they are endorsing specific political issues being debated today,” the letter continues. Issues like “defunding the police.”
This didn’t mean the district had “a lack of commitment” to race issues and equity, just a “commitment to creating and fostering a nonpartisan culture in our schools.” A memo was sent to staff members detailing the substance of the letter and how they should follow policy going forward.
Cut to Tuesday evening, when several parents attended the district’s school board meeting, masked up and ready to share some choice words on the subject. This, they insisted, was not a “political” matter at all.
"I’m concerned that we’re running away from discussions on real issues that are impacting our world… Again, this is not about politics, this is about humanity,” one parent said.
“I am disappointed and disgusted at the email that was sent out this afternoon,” another parent said. “The past five months have been extremely heartbreaking and traumatic to our nation and our world. As a Black mother to Black sons, the district sending out an email censoring and stifling much-needed conversation at this time is absolutely reprehensible.”
If the district was “committed” to inclusivity and addressing race issues, several parents said, they’d like to know exactly how else they were going to handle that conversation.
Superintendent Baumann said “as a biracial male,” he felt a lot of the issues being brought up. But this, he said, was about comporting with policy.
“This superintendent is not running from the issue of the conversation… around race,” he said. “That message was about posters… and I am being consistent with the policy we have in the school district. Does that policy need to be looked at? I would say yes.”
Furthermore, he insisted there was “a political component to this that stops people from listening.”
“And I don’t want to stop people from listening,” he said.
That wasn’t the final word on the issue. In the days that followed, several people started sharing the letter on Facebook and tagging the district.
Dear Lakeville Area Schools, BLACK LIVES MATTER isn’t a political statement. It’s not a political organization. It’s a fact. Our lives matter. Our kids lives matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER.Posted by ImBig Chris on Friday, September 25, 2020
Lakeville Area Schools believes that declaring that Black lives matter is no different than a campaign slogan like “Keep...Posted by Jeff Garcia on Wednesday, September 23, 2020
I’m so disgusted with the high school I went to. Lakeville South Highschool will accept confederate flags on cars and...Posted by Izzy Mercedes Contreras on Thursday, September 24, 2020
Later that afternoon, Baumann issued a follow-up statement to district families explaining the situation.
“My interpretation of School Board Policy 535 that I articulated in the memo was specific to staff putting up these posters,” he wrote. “I acknowledge the impact for many was hurtful.”
He said Lakeville Area Schools stood against racism and bigotry, and that conversations about these subjects were “supported” and “important.” He also acknowledged there was “much work to be done” to clearly demonstrate and affirm anti-racism in the district.
“As superintendent of this district, I lead this effort. Black lives do matter,” he wrote.
He said the district would provide listening sessions for students, staff, and families to offer feedback and pursue anti-racism practices, and that more information would be shared in the coming weeks. The district declined to comment outside of this statement. You can read it in its entirety here.