Jennifer Brooks
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COVID-19 was surging, Chaska schools were masking again, and Greg Petrie was in a rage.

"You Power-Monkeys just don't care what the people want do you?" Petrie wrote in response to a mass email on district masking policy that was signed by Eastern Carver County Schools Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams. She's Black.

Last year, Petrie was yelling at the school district. This year, he's running for the school board.

Petrie is running on a slate of four conservative candidates that includes his wife Svetlana Kolesnikova, Joe Scott and Dean Waymire — a bloc that would give them majority control over Eastern Carver County Schools' seven-member board.

"The last board meeting was a clear indication of what we expect from you, OUR SERVANTS, regarding masks," Petrie continued in his email, punctuated by a row of five exclamation points. His final word to the school district was a warning.

"A reckoning," he wrote, "is coming."

Petrie's Power-Monkey email was unearthed by another Chaska parent, Jonas Sjoberg, who has more reason than most to root for school board civility. He was the parent attacked last year at a school board meeting, and he was curious to know whether the heated rhetoric at those meetings was matched by heated correspondence from the school board candidates.

"We suspected smoke and found fire," said Sjoberg, who shared the results of his data request on the Better Eastern Carver County Facebook group. "The people who really care about kids should be running for school board. But it's not. It's culture wars."

Last year was the year Americans tried to scream school boards into submission. They screamed about masking policy, about nonexistent critical race theory, about who gets to use which bathroom.

One month after Petrie fired off his broadside against the district, an anti-masker assaulted Sjoberg, who rose to assure the Chaska school board that some parents favored masks for children during the deadly airborne epidemic.

Asked for comment, Petrie pointed to a statement he gave the Chaska Herald where he said the Power-Monkey slur was directed at the district's community relations department, not the Black superintendent informing parents about the district's masking policy. He didn't apologize for his breach of manners or decency.

"I'm glad my reply has seen the light of day," Petrie said in the statement to the Herald. "It illustrates one parent's reaction to our district's disregard for parental input regarding the mandatory masking of our children. I felt I needed to be a voice for others who felt the same way."

In a follow-up text to the Star Tribune, Petrie, 62, said that when he was growing up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1970s, "the term 'power monkey' wasn't a racial connotation. It had nothing to do with skin color."

Maybe schoolyard taunts worked differently in the San Francisco Bay area five decades ago. But Eastern Carver County has had a more recent lesson in the power and the pain of racist language.

The school district is operating under a federal consent decree after six Black students filed suit over alleged systemic racism at Chaska schools. The youngest of the students was 7 years old.

They described being assaulted and harassed by white classmates. Classmates who scrawled a racial slur on their clothing, who dressed in blackface on social media and in the background of yearbook photos — a vile display caught just before the 2019 Chaska High School yearbook went to print.

The students described white classmates who called them monkeys.

Under the terms of the federal settlement, the district is required to offer anti-racism and anti-bullying training. That training does not appear to have been offered to candidates running for the Eastern Carver County school board.

"Those are not the people I think would build a strong school, a nurturing school," Sjoberg said.