The Sartell-St. Stephen School Board may be done with Equity Alliance Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean parents are giving up the fight.
The controversial equity consultants could face legal actions if they refuse to hand over a survey that was administered to students as part of a taxpayer-funded “equity audit,” according to a letter obtained by Alpha News.
Concerned parents, who banded together under the name Kids Over Politics 748, have been fighting against Equity Alliance’s involvement in the district all summer.
They scored their first major victory last week when the school board, at the recommendation of Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover, agreed to end its contractual relationship with the outside firm.
“We got scammed by an organization that failed to do their work properly, legally, and ethically. They made promises that they didn’t keep and they didn’t give us the finished product that we were expecting,” said school board member Amanda Byrd.
Ridlehoover and the board expressed frustration with the “inability of Equity Alliance Minnesota to provide answers,” such as the questions it asked students as part of the equity audit.
But Equity Alliance may be legally obligated to provide a copy of the survey under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, according to attorney James Dickey of the Upper Midwest Law Center, which is representing the parent group.
Equity Alliance’s history sheds some light on this argument.
The group was founded in 1995 and operated various magnet schools throughout the Twin Cities under the name East Metro Integration District up until its 2013 rebranding, according to the Pioneer Press.
As part of this rebranding, the group shifted its “strategic direction to grow the organization’s customer base,” per its website.
Equity Alliance doesn’t directly operate any schools anymore but is still considered a joint powers organization and is therefore subject to the Data Practices Act, Dickey argues in his letter.
Equity Alliance’s member districts are asked to enter into a joint powers agreement, the purpose of which is to “support the movement toward systemic E-21 education equity and integration,” according to a 2017 copy of the agreement.
Districts that sign the JPA then appoint one member to Equity Alliance’s Joint Powers Board, which is “vested with all those powers granted to independent school districts by Minnesota statute.”
Dickey also revealed that his clients have made three requests for a copy of the survey, but Equity Alliance has “failed to even acknowledge our clients’ simple requests … much less comply with them.”
“If you do not provide the responsive data or indicate that you will promptly provide it, our clients have authorized us to commence a lawsuit under the MGDPA to compel production and seek reasonable costs and attorney fees,” he concludes.