Equity group releases survey questions after being threatened with lawsuit

One question asked students if they've learned about Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in class or if they've read "Becoming" by Michelle Obama.

Left: Parents and community members from "Kids Over Politics" gathered for a school board meeting last month. Right: Student Haylee Yasgar discusses her experience taking Equity Alliance Minnesota's survey.

An “equity survey” students were allegedly asked to hide from their parents was recently released by the group that administered the survey to students in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.

Fourth-grade student Haylee Yasgar came forward this summer, saying she was told in class to keep hidden from her parents an equity survey she had been required to take.

Yasgar said some of the questions made her “uncomfortable” and “confused,” yet her teacher said she had to answer every question.

Equity Alliance Minnesota, a group paid $80,000 by the school district to conduct an equity audit, was consequently threatened with a lawsuit by a group of parents if the survey was not made available.

Now, Equity Alliance has released the survey it administered to students at Sartell schools, and some of the questions in the survey may have violated district policy.

One question asked what gender identity students identify with.

“Do you currently identify yourself as female, male, transgender (transgender people have gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. For example, they were born male but now identify as female), or something else?” the survey reads.

Another question asked what religion students practice.

Both questions violate the school district’s policy 520, a parent group called Kids Over Politics 748 argues.

Policy 520 says that no student will be asked questions “pertaining to the student’s … personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion” unless parents are notified in writing, give explicit “written permission” or have the opportunity to opt out.

“Policies are made to protect our children, not be ignored when inconvenient,” Kids Over Politics 748 wrote on Facebook. Kids Over Politics is a group of parents in the district who banded together to bring awareness to the equity survey given to their students.

“In this instance, the district did not seek or obtain written permission from parents. In fact, the School Board accepted the proposed contract with Equity Alliance Minnesota knowing a survey was included, without even considering that part of their own policies may protect students from the controversial questions being asked,” the group said.

Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover said some students did opt out of the survey “based on the knowledge that it was coming” but admitted that “the exact policy perhaps was not followed, and that is an error on our part.”

Other questions in the survey asked whether teachers are welcoming, “communicate clearly and do their best to use [the student’s] language when appropriate,” and explain directions clearly. Whether posters in classrooms “always use at least two languages” was also asked.

The survey also gave lists of books based on the race of the author and asked which books students had been required to read for assignments.

The high school version of the survey asked questions more directly concerning race, such as, “Does your school-based social circle include students who are not of the same race or culture as you?”

Other questions inquired about whether teachers place students in racially diverse groups or offer any “advocacy group or alliance group for students of color.”

One question asked students if they’ve learned about Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in class or if they’ve read “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.

A definition of “educational equity” was provided at the beginning of all surveys, reading, “Educational Equity is defined as each student, particularly students of color, receiving the supports needed to be successful in school … especially those from diverse racial, ethnic, and low socio-economic backgrounds.”

Kids Over Politics is encouraging people to email the school board and demand the resignation of Chairman Jeremy Snoberger, who they say reviewed the questions prior to letting the survey be administered, and Vice Chairman Jason Nies, who they claim did not review the questions but voted to approve the contract with Equity Alliance anyway.

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