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Minn. School Board Scraps Proposed Diversity Rule

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After months of contentious debate, the Minnesota state school board voted 5-3 last week to scrap its effort to craft a new diversity policy.

The proposed rule would have expanded the state's existing emphasis on multicultural curricula to include a requirement that districts form advisory committees and draw up plans to eliminate "education-related disparities" among students of different races, ethnic backgrounds, genders, and income levels.

A divided board released the proposal for public comment last fall following years of wrangling. Critics immediately complained that the rule would impose time-consuming requirements on districts with little assurance of improved outcomes for students.

Wendell Maddox, a Minneapolis business owner and board member, led the effort to halt the rule-making process because the uproar over the diversity policy threatened to overshadow the state board's parallel effort to set higher standards for high school graduation. At the same time, the board is also writing a new desegregation policy.

"This rule was an insult to the intelligence of minority students," Mr. Maddox said. "I'm the biggest advocate in Minnesota for closing the learning gap, but this rule just didn't make sense to me."

The proposed policy also failed to garner the support of the school boards and superintendents in the Minneapolis and St. Paul systems, which educate a large share of the state's nonwhite students. They argued that their districts were already addressing learning gaps and would have faced an administrative burden under the new rule. ("In Minn., Criticism May Quash Board's Diversity-Rule Proposal," Dec. 3, 1997.)

Change of Heart

Carmen Robles, a state board member who also voted against the rule, said the lengthy attempt to rewrite the diversity rule sparked a beneficial statewide debate. The 1988 rule is still in effect, she noted.

"Don't think for one minute that diversity is dead in the state of Minnesota," she said. "This has been an education for everybody."

The board's change of heart on the matter came after Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, appointed two new members to four-year terms. The nine-member board still has one vacancy--the seat of former President Dolores Fridge, who resigned last month. In December, the board voted 5-3 to continue the rule-making process, but the new appointees reversed that decision.

Gov. Carlson wrote a letter to the board in November requesting that it stop the rule-making process or face the possibility of legislative action this year to block the policy changes.

Jackie Renner, a spokeswoman for Mr. Carlson, said the governor believes the board made the right decision last week.

"He thinks the best way to ensure achievement is through a strong graduation rule," Ms. Renner said, "and that's what we're working on right now."

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