Edina looks to make a change

October 13, 2022

“Government has an extraordinarily important role with respect to all of these issues in terms of modeling behavior, or setting standards for behavior, or describing what is permissible in a town or how we treat each other, how we interact with each other,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said. “I think that everyone wants to feel like they belong to something and that they belong to a community that they’re part of and they want to be involved in something bigger than themselves.”

After facing issues with prejudice in the past, the Edina government created support systems to better assist the community.

When the city first had problems regarding its lack of diversity and representation, the city decided to create a Human Rights Commission in 1968 (now called the Human Relations Commission) to support education and alleviate any issues related to human rights in Edina.

As Edina saw an increase in civil rights reforms, in 1972, Edina created a chapter of A Better Chance Foundation, a program that sends academically talented students of color to top high schools to receive a higher quality education.

October 12, 2006 marked a momentous day for the Edina government. According to the Star Tribune, a video of a white Edina police officer “confronting” a black man walking down a road sparked outrage across the nation. “Nobody got physically hurt. But it led us to look at what we could do in the city,” Mayor Hovland said. “That led to the formation of [the] recent equity task force.”

On Oct. 2, Edina’s Human Rights and Relations Commission hosted the “How to Stop the Hate” discussion at the Edina City Hall. “It really doesn’t matter what age the person is. Whether it’s [high schoolers], even younger, [or] older people. We all want to make sure that we’re part of a community,” Mayor Hovland said. “And so I think that’s what we continue to do with these events like [the] ‘Stop The Hate’ event that occurred”

Edina Public Schools administration has also made an effort to make the city more of an accepting community. Superintendent Dr. Stanley came into her job last year with goals of uniting Edina as one, creating One Town, One Family events in conjunction with the city, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Edina Community Foundation. The goal of these events, which are held every few months, is to create a vision and action plan together with community members of all ages to improve Edina’s atmosphere and inclusivity. 

“There’s been 400 people from the community. That’s students, staff, family members, community members, and city residents, the mayor, City Council, all of our principals, and my cabinet who have been involved,” Dr. Stanley said. “As long as I’m superintendent, One Town, One Family will be a way that we continue to get together so that we can do our very best to make certain that we meet the vision [made by the original members] to feel welcome in Edina.”

In addition to One Town One Family, new district policy 506 and EPS Student Handbook changes have been implemented, explicitly prohibiting racism, religious based discrimination, xenophobia, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination. “[Change] comes from accountability and consequences and letting kids know that it’s totally unacceptable in the school,” Principal Andrew Beaton said. “It also has to come from changing hearts and minds, talking about this, and looking at some things that we can do in schools.”

The school board leaned heavily on the Superintendent and her cabinet in the development process of district policy 506, who brought suggested language changes. In this process, Principal Beaton wrote the updated language which was further reviewed by other EPS principals. Afterwards, the policy was reviewed and approved by the Assistant Superintendent, Randal Smasal, and Superintendent Dr. Stanley. It was then reviewed again by the school board and approved.

The policy 506 change was followed with immense support by student activists. “An action that can cause permanent damage to a person’s self-esteem or overall mental health deserves a permanent consequence,” junior Rakiya Sheikhosman said. 

With ongoing efforts to make Edina a more accepting community, diversity in EPS has spiked. EHS has  65.54% white students this year, in comparison to 82% in 2014. “In the last 10 years, the diversity has increased, especially in the last three years. We are seeing this huge increase in the number of people of color in Edina,” EPS cultural liaison Sayali Amarpurkar said.

A decade ago, Amarapurkar was hesitant to enroll her children in Edina due to its lack of diversity. “My son was in second grade and he [had] maybe one or two other kids of color in the classroom,” Amarakpurkar said. 

In recent years, EPS has hired cultural liaisons such as Amarapurkar to support the numerous cultures represented in the school district. Currently, EPS has three liaisons to engage Somali, Southeast Asian, and Spanish-speaking residents in the educational system.

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