Critical Race Theory: Statement from Superintendent Lewandowski

Intermediate District 287 Statement: Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski on Critical Race Theory

We’re a district that serves majority Students of Color, and racial equity work is foundational to our strategic priorities, all of which directly impact student outcomes. We understand that fixing our education system for Students of Color benefits all students. When it comes to our District’s racial equity work, our policy focuses on eliminating bias, particularly racism, bigotry, and cultural bias, as factors affecting student achievement and learning experiences.

Do we explicitly teach Critical Race Theory (CRT) as part of the curriculum in the classroom? No. CRT is just that – a theory. It was developed over 40 years ago by lawyers, activists, and legal scholars and may be taught in some universities’ Masters or Doctoral programs. It is not included in the Minnesota Department of Education’s K-12 Social Studies Standards and is not taught in our schools.

We do, however, embed racial equity work in our schools. What does that look like?

It means we teach history from all sides, making sure the history of Indigenous people, Black people, and immigrant groups are represented in social studies. It means we promote culturally responsive teaching by connecting students’ cultures, languages, and life experiences with what they learn in school. It means that we recognize that race-related trauma plays a role in our student’s mental health, and we focus on Social Emotional Learning strategies and trauma-responsive practices that support them. It means we proudly honor graduates with “Bilingual Seals” for their multilingual abilities. It means we encourage conversations about race, looking at data by race which helps us take meaningful actions and measure progress toward student achievement, and ask staff members to participate in professional development about race. It especially means that we examine our practices and policies to determine what changes are necessary so that we can produce more equitable outcomes for students.

We use a Racial Equity Impact Analysis Tool in our decision-making to ensure that racial equity is front-and-center in discussions, and examine how Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and low wealth communities may be affected by a proposed action or decision of the District. This tool prompts us to ask: What are the racial equity impacts of this decision, who will benefit from and/or be burdened by this decision, and are there strategies to mitigate any unintended consequences of this decision?

In the Twin Cities, we’re still suffering and healing from the pain we all went through when George Floyd was murdered a little over a year ago. Our students, families, staff, and community are grieving. In my school district, which focuses on trauma-responsive practices, we found that talking about race and racism is essential for individual and community healing. The research around trauma is clear: unprocessed trauma leads to more harm. We’re focused on healing, and racial equity work is part of that healing.

There are widely differing understandings of what CRT means. Misinformation campaigns promote the idea that there isn’t a race problem in America. In my state, we have one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the nation. As a white woman and an educational leader, I can tell you that these gaps have everything to do with the failure of our systems to support students, in particular Students of Color. Students who are BIPOC are hurting while we are spending time getting comfortable being uncomfortable having conversations about race.

There is a lot at stake for our nation. When public schools don’t serve students well, especially Students of Color, it contributes to substandard learning opportunities and poor life outcomes. There has been bi-partisan acknowledgment and work over the past few decades to hold schools accountable for helping all students thrive. We are making progress, but it’s still not fast enough, which is why our focus on racial equity now is essential.