In a high-stakes election with four seats up for grabs, a slate of progressive school board candidates are vying to take control of the Minnetonka School Board.
There are four Education Minnesota-backed candidates running for the open seats in this year’s Nov. 7 election, including Sarah “Sally” Browne, Kemerie Foss, Dan Olson, and current board member Michael Remucal. Although school board races are nonpartisan, Education Minnesota (the state’s teachers union) typically only endorses left-leaning candidates.
Recent candidate forums have revealed the progressive leanings of some of the candidates.
“I don’t think we can put our heads down and pretend the world is all about academics,” Olson said during a recent forum. He said schools should be “safe spaces” where kids can “identify allies” and “have conversations they may not be able to have at home.”
Minnetonka School Board candidate Dan Olson says schools can’t just “pretend the world is all about academics.” He thinks schools should be “safe spaces” where kids can “identify allies” and “have conversations they may not be able to have at home.” pic.twitter.com/QEnvm4hctT
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) October 31, 2023
When pressed on the issue, Olson claimed that his “ideal situation” is for kids to be able to have “tough conversations with their parents at home.”
“But adolescence can be a tough and confusing time, and in addition to being able to speak with their family I believe it’s important for students to have trusted adults in their schools as well,” he told Alpha News.
Browne, meanwhile, speaking on DEI initiatives, said the district should “bake it into the cake in every way that we can.”
Union-backed Minnetonka school board candidate Sally Browne on DEI in schools: "Bake it into the cake in every way that we can." pic.twitter.com/u9UBz1aBXl
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) October 24, 2023
Current board members Lisa Wagner, Mark Ambrosen and Katie Becker are not seeking reelection, so this election could reshape the ideological makeup of the board.
“It took 20 years for Minnetonka to become the exemplary school district that it is. It would only take a couple of years for it to be transformed and become like Hopkins with high violence and low scores,” said a Minnetonka Public Schools teacher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “This is one school board election that will really matter.”
‘I intend to agitate’
Browne was an “adult ally” of the Minnetonka Coalition for Equitable Education (MCEE) from 2020-2023, according to her campaign website. The group was founded on the belief that “systemic change starts by transforming institutions from the ground up.”
The organization has a list of 11 “imperatives” published on its website, including demands for “anti-racism training for staff,” “anti-racist curriculum,” and a statement from the superintendent acknowledging that “institutional racism exists on a local, state, and national level.”
In 2022, Browne was quoted in articles after MCEE accused a white student of calling three black students a racial slur and telling them to kill themselves. The students who made the allegations “questioned why they should have to prove or have evidence of someone calling them a racial slur in order for there to be consequences,” according to media reports from the time.
An elementary school had to close early after activists planned to protest in response to the allegations, but MCEE denied having any connection to the scheduled protest. The group also organized a rally in 2021 to show support for a teacher who paid tribute to transgender activist and sex worker Marsha P. Johnson during an online “morning show.”
In an undated social media post obtained by Alpha News, Browne made her intentions clear.
“I intend to agitate, if necessary, to ensure that the school board hires a principled pro-equity superintendent who is a change agent,” she said, presumably sometime after former Superintendent Dennis Peterson announced his retirement.
Browne declined to comment for this story.
“She’s already said we need to bake it (DEI) into the cake in every way that we can,” the Minnetonka teacher said. “I think she would be in favor of hiring a DEI administrator. They’re going to be teaching our kids to be racist. It’s not diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s diversity, equity and exclusion. It’s another $200,000 of taxpayer money a year to take more minutes away from education.”
Even though the Minnetonka Teachers Association endorsed Browne, many teachers do not want her on the board, according to the teacher.
‘A great top prosecutor’
Olson, another Education Minnesota-backed candidate, repeatedly encouraged Minnetonka residents to vote for Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty during the 2022 election, saying “she’d be a great top prosecutor,” and organized a fundraiser to support her campaign.
Moriarty has come under intense public scrutiny since taking office for her progressive approach to prosecuting and dismissal of charges in significant cases. Minnetonka residents recently spoke out against Moriarty at a City Council meeting after a mother and her son were violently carjacked in broad daylight in front of their home.
“The county’s top prosecutor is a tough job, and I look forward to building relationships with different levels of government to ensure our district is a safe place for our children and employees. I will say that I’m glad our district has decided to retain the [school resource officers] we’ve had in our buildings,” Olson said of his support for Moriarty.
Social media posts also reveal that Olson has made disparaging comments about police leaders and Republican candidates, calling former Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll a “piece of shit.”
“The ongoing, unpunished murders of black people at the hands of police is terrorism. Protesting injustice and shining a light on it is not terrorism,” he said amid the George Floyd riots in 2020 in response to a letter written by Kroll.
“I’ve long held the belief that folks like teachers, first responders (including police officers), and our medical professionals are the fabric that holds our society together,” Olson told Alpha News. “However, respecting an institution or voting for a political party like the GOP in the past doesn’t preclude me from also criticizing those same institutions or some of their members for their flaws or failure to live up to their ideals. That’s the bedrock of the democratic process. My only goal is that the law is applied equally, no matter whose conduct is under question.”
Remucal, Browne, and Olson are also endorsed by the progressive advocacy organization OutFront Minnesota.
Minnetonka School Board member Mike Remucal, who is seeking reelection, says parental rights is "a difficult term to negotiate." pic.twitter.com/hmowyRKGz6
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) October 25, 2023
The Minnetonka teacher who spoke to Alpha News believes these candidates will “pump up the curriculum with ideologies that distract teachers from teaching.”
“We’re not going to continue to see the educational gains we’ve made. The student population at Minnetonka High School has always outperformed pretty much any other place in the state,” the teacher said. “We will quickly have eroding test scores. The academic rigor will suffer.”
Minnetonka’s standardized test scores remain strong amid declining scores statewide.
If elected, the teacher said the district will see new policies that will contribute to a rise in violence because these candidates will usher in restorative justice practices, which MCEE endorses on its website. Restorative justice is a race-based discipline policy that was designed to curb the suspensions of black and brown kids.
“We’ve seen less restorative justice in this last year. Last year the whole restorative justice mindset made school crazy. There were so many more fights. Fights are way down this year because if kids are out of line, it doesn’t matter what color they are, they are getting suspended,” she said.
Olson confirmed that he believes there are “elements of restorative justice” that would be “wise to consider implementing.”
Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.