Tensions ran high Monday evening during a monthly meeting of the Sartell-St. Stephen School Board.
With an overflow crowd of nearly 150 in a small room and adjacent hallway, one of the topics was bias and inconsistency with district rules for student-led clubs posting signs.
Student-led groups were denied the right to advertise, yet the “Gender and Sexuality Alliance” club — an LGBT organization — freely put up signs and individual stickers on classroom doors, according to parents.
Kids over Politics 748 (KOP), the local non-partisan movement begun last year, seeking opportunity for all without discrimination, requested equal treatment in promoting clubs.
Co-founder Chris Yasgar said he’s simply asking the district to follow federal law.
“One group has been allowed to express ideas by placing signs and stickers throughout the school district, including on classroom doors, windows and walls,” he said during the public forum portion Monday. “Other groups, organized under the exact same group umbrella, have been explicitly denied that same opportunity for expression.”
Sartell Superintendent Jeff Riddlehoover has previously described KOP’s concerns as “noise” while a board member called them “conspiracy theories.”
Yasgar noted that “this is not noise; this is not a conspiracy theory; this is viewpoint discrimination, and this is happening in your district.”
“And we now have sufficient evidence to know that it is not coincidental. Those are the facts,” he added. “One group is being excluded while another is being accommodated. It does not matter the composition of either group; the school cannot treat these students differently, yet as I speak today, you systematically are.”
Yasgar said former embattled School Board Chairman Jeremy Snoberger and Riddlehoover were made aware of the conflicts last summer and did not address them. He did, however, thank some board members for their “appropriate action on this subject.”
Parent Steve Kron touched on the controversial “Educational Equity and Student Experience Committee” and criticized the committee for using a closed-door process while having an ideological imbalance among its members.
Bennett Prose spoke last and decried how life outside the school walls is “filled with hate” and said the LGBT club is a “safe space for all.” In his remarks, the Sartell High School student said “language is powerful” and implored schools to “practice equity.”
Current School Board Chairman Patrick Marushin concluded the meeting with a commitment to gathering ”input on potential solutions to provide a safe learning environment,” which includes new safe space signs in all classrooms.
“The district will be putting up new safe space signs in all high school classrooms, indicating the space will be an environment that is free of bullying or discrimination of any kind,” Marushin said.
Alpha News reached out to the school district for comment but did not receive a response.
A.J. Kaufman is an Alpha News columnist. His work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star, Israel National News, Orange County Register, St. Cloud Times, Star-Tribune, and across AIM Media Midwest and the Internet. Kaufman previously worked as a school teacher and military historian.