Since 2014, Osseo, Minnesota has seen change due to the dramatic shifts in its racial demographics.
The Osseo Area School District is the fifth-largest in Minnesota, serving all or parts of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Corcoran, Dayton, Maple Grove, Osseo, Plymouth and Rogers. The district is made up of approximately 20,000 students, with 53 percent of them students of color and Black students (including African immigrants and students who identify as African American) composing 28% of the district’s student population, according to Osseo Schools community relations representative Barbara Olson.
According to Fata Acquoi, a program director with the African Immigrant Service (AIS), the district had an opportunity to do more when it came to serving students of color upon her arrival in 2016.
“These organizations were not created for us as people of color,” Acquoi said. “They were created as bureaucracies and created to make it harder for us to infiltrate.”
“Minnesota has a pretty large African migrant population, but a majority of our voices are being left out in decisions,” she said. “AIS was founded to basically bring the voices of African immigrants to the table so that we are able to contribute back and be in powerful positions making changes to policy and system.”
She noted that parents of color started to notice there was a gap in suspension rates for students of color in comparison to white students, there was a lack of African-American history classes available and food options from African cultures were not available.
Acquoi says overall, parents felt there was not equity for students of color in the district and knew something must be changed. In 2014, families in the community met with the school board, superintendent, teachers and principals and expressed how they had seen a difference in punishments, food options and class course options for students of color than white students.
Enter AIS, a community nonprofit working to increase civic engagement with communities of color to remove disparities and defeat systematic and cultural barriers. AIS and other community groups were engaged by the district.
“I was brought in by the parents to make sure our students are going to be successful,” she said.
Acquoi shares experiences with today’s students of color: coming to the United States, going to a predominately white school and being talked down to by teachers and principals.
Acquoi soon learned that an Osseo education-equity policy was held up for two years by the district, and groups other than AIS wanted their names attached to it. Parents had not been informed.
So she called an emergency meeting and held a focus group with parents to look over documents and give feedback. After reviewing the documents, parents agreed and the policy was passed. The policy includes creating an African-American history class and offering African food for lunch with food ingredients listed. More important, it required the hiring of teachers of color.
“This is the first-ever policy where parents of color can hold the district accountable,” she said. “If these rules are not followed, AIS could always challenge or sue the school district.”
The passing of this policy shows progress for the Osseo public school district as it tries to address its changing racial demographics.