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Moorhead close to agreement with state on suspensions, expulsions of disabled and minority students

Brandon Lunak

ST. PAUL — The Moorhead School District is one of three districts or charter schools that have not yet reached an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on a plan to reduce differences in suspension and expulsion rates for disabled or minority students.

However, MDHR announced Thursday, Aug. 2, that it expects to come to agreements with Moorhead, St. Cloud Public Schools, and the Global Academy Charter in Columbia Heights, before the Sept. 4 start of school.

Moorhead Superintendent Brandon Lunak agrees. "We're very close. We're right there where we need to be," he said.

Lunak plans to consult with the district's attorney Friday, Aug. 3, and prepare a measure for the school board's Aug. 13 agenda.

"We've resolved some of our differences in student data. And I think both sides have come to a compromise," Lunak said. "The biggest thing for us was just to make sure the student data was protected in any information that they would request. By federal law, we have to protect that data. ... To us, that was the biggest sticking point."

Lunak said the district will be reviewing suspensions and expulsions monthly, and sending data to the Department of Human Rights twice a year. "We'll be looking at that data under a tighter lens," he said.

MDHR said it has already signed agreements with most of the 43 charter schools and school districts it determined must reduce disparities in suspensions and expulsions for disabled students and students of color. Tentative agreements were reached with five districts or charters, the department said.

Last fall, MDHR met with the districts and charter schools after reviewing the most recent five years of public data reported to the state Department of Education's Discipline Incident Reporting System.

An MDHR analysis showed Minnesota's rate of suspension is equal to or significantly higher than national rates. Students of color comprise 31 percent of Minnesota's population, yet receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions. Students with disabilities comprise 14 percent of the population, yet receive 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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