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Minnesota school board discusses diversity after superintendent video draws criticism

After a video on inclusivity narrated by Superintendent Chris Lindholm made the rounds and drew outcry from some community members last week, the Pequot Lakes School Board invited the public to hear the board’s thoughts on the situation during its monthly work session Monday, April 12.

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Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm addresses the crowd, first with an apology for how a video he shared was perceived, during the Pequot Lakes School Board's work session Monday, April 12. Dan Determan / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — A video about inclusivity narrated by the Pequot Lakes School District superintendent has drawn criticism and calls for his resignation by some community members after the video made the rounds on social media.

The video shares the experience of Superintendent Chris Lindholm and other district leaders with incorporating equity practices into staff development, one of a series of animated shorts produced as part of a collaborative project called “The Rural Reveal.” Lindholm describes his perception and experiences of the Pequot Lakes community upon his arrival from the Twin Cities in 2013 and his desire to help marginalized students and families feel welcomed and valued.

Pequot Lakes School Board members shared their thoughts with the public during their monthly work session Monday, April 12. The board did not take public comment at the work session, but will host a listening session Monday, April 26.

Lindholm began Monday's session by apologizing to members of the public for whom the video was “not appreciated and possibly even hurtful." He said the portion of the video shared was taken out of context and is one piece of a “larger effort” put together by Voice for Rural Resilience, with support from the Region Five Development Commission and the Department of Transformation.

Lindholm said the video’s intent was to “highlight and celebrate” the work being done in rural communities in their efforts to be more welcoming communities, but cited some first- and second-hand accounts of more work needing to be done.

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“Over the past eight years, and especially six to seven years ago, I found myself and our team addressing staff who complained quite loudly about a district culture in which diverse opinions weren't listened to or honored,” Lindholm told the board and crowd. “A couple of situations involving a transgender student needing to function in secret to avoid being bullied or harassed. One of those students ended up taking their own life, just a couple years after graduation. I personally witnessed staff hear students' racial and homophobic slurs and not confront them — they simply looked the other way.

“I heard from a parent of a high school student that is Black, that they were regularly being targeted due to their race out in public, in our stores and in our schools. In one instance, a young man pulled up a chair next to one of the girls in the classroom and asked when she got off the boat. That was in our classroom,” he said.

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Some meeting attendees made signs in support of Lindholm Monday, April 12. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Middle school reading and language arts teacher Karen Rubado then spoke about the SEED Program, which stands for “Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity” and was at the crux of Lindholm’s video. Rubado was one of the district’s first educators involved in SEED, which is an optional program for staff to recognize their own biases and strive to create more inclusive learning environments. She serves as a SEED facilitator for the district.

Board member Dena Moody defended and praised the work done by the staff taking part in the SEED program, which she said is meant to help children, but expressed concerns surrounding the content and statements of Lindholm’s video.

“Mr. Lindholm, you are the chief administrator for the district and you are our salesman,” Moody said. “We task you with selling our district … and you were very judgmental, very self-serving and it was just appalling.

“We all see things from a different perspective, but I think it is unfortunate that you, being the chief salesman (for the district), did not realize that no matter who the audience was, you don’t start off the sales pitch by insulting.”

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Her statement received applause from a portion of the crowd in attendance.

Board member Curt Johnson defended the track record and performance of Lindholm and the district as a whole during his tenure, but admitted he empathized with individuals in the community who felt wrongly accused of intolerance and discrimination by the video.

“For the last seven or eight years here, we have been doing pretty good as a district under Mr. Lindholm’s leadership,” he said. “In fact, I think we have had a couple of graduation rates that were 100%. I think we have done some things that are exceptional, but I want to keep that exceptional atmosphere going.”

Board chairwoman Kim Bolz-Andolshek said she was disheartened that the individuals calling for Lindholm’s resignation or termination never asked for more information on the topic or asked for a one-on-one conversation. Though there have been several emails sent in opposition to the video, she said she received “as many, if not more” emails of support and gratitude.

While she did not defend the video, Bolz-Andolshek said in the eight years she has worked with Lindholm, she has never heard him talk about politics or post anything political on social media.

“We all have unconscious biases, and some of his did come out in that video. What I also want to say is that video was not made for students or put in classrooms," she said.

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Response - both positive and negative - to a video shared by Superintendent Chris Lindholm on inclusivity drew a record crowd to the Pequot Lakes School Board's work session Monday, April 12. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

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Response - both positive and negative - to a video shared by Superintendent Chris Lindholm on inclusivity drew a record crowd to the Pequot Lakes School Board's work session Monday, April 12. Dan Determan / Echo Journal

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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