At its meeting on January 11 the ISD 196 (Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan) School Board heard from former school board candidate Rebecca Gierok, who has been advocating in support of Echo Park Elementary School teacher Qorsho Hassan. Ms. Gierok urged the Board to issue a public statement in support of Qorsho and commit to listening to and implementing changes requested by students, parents, staff, and teachers of color.
Last summer Qorsho was honored as the 2020 Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota and was interviewed by Eagan Television and KARE11. Last fall Qorsho assigned to her 4th grade students a widely acclaimed, bestselling book titled Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice. The book depicts how two families discuss the police shooting of a black man.
In October the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association publicly complained to Governor Walz that the book "leaves the impression unchecked that police officers routinely pull over, arrest, and kill black people without consequence." The Star Tribune reported that three state legislators similarly criticized the book. In response, the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education issued a joint statement "saying the book won multiple awards and was authored by psychologists 'seeking to help children process a difficult set of issues.'" Dakota County United Educators likewise supported Qorsho's use of the book in her classroom.
The Pioneer Press reported that ISD 196's communications director, Tony Taschner, initially stated that "[t]he district was unaware the book ... was being used with a fourth-grade class at Echo Park," and that "[t]he book is a resource cited by the Minnesota Department of Education but is not part of the district curriculum. District and school administrators are looking into how the book was used.” The District later clarified that ISD 196 Superintendent Mary Kreger sent parents a statement that said, in part, that the book "is not in the District 196 curriculum or elementary classroom libraries, but it can be used appropriately with elementary age children." Superintendent Kreger also said that "[a]nti-racist work must be a critical part of the fabric of our district."
In November the Sahan Journal chronicled the history of the controversy and quoted Qorsho as saying that with ISD 196's initial statement, "[e]ssentially, they threw me under the bus." Qorsho defended her use of the book and said a "tone has been present this entire time from the district: the willingness to be silent, to keep peace instead of really owning the truth and really tackling this issue of racism and being firmly against it."
Both at a November 16th protest held prior to a special School Board meeting and at the regular School Board meeting on December 14, some district residents seemed to agree. They "said district officials have not done enough to publicly support [Qorsho] after the initial backlash from the book," according to this December 16 story from Sun ThisWeek. At its December 14 meeting ISD 196 staff presented to the School Board an update regarding ISD 196's progress towards promoting equity and inclusion. Superintendent Kreger noted that the recently-formed Equity Advisory Council has met twice and will help inform decision making in the future. Superintendent Kreger also explained that ISD 196 is in the process of hiring a director of equity and inclusion.