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I write in response to D.J. Tice's column about the "death roll" of kids in Minnesota ("Another death roll of kids Minnesota didn't save," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 10). There are critical types of cases that Tice didn't talk about. Those cases involve children unnecessarily removed from their homes because of our system confusing poverty with neglect. I'm thinking of a case where a child was removed because his mother didn't have stable housing or the opportunity to get consistent mental health care. Or another case I worked on several years ago where a pregnant mother had used early in pregnancy and was fearful of receiving medical treatment, so, because of a lack of documented prenatal care, she was separated from her newborn.

When anecdotes collide it's time to look at the data.

Minnesota separates families at a rate nearly double the national average, even when rates of child poverty are factored in. And for Indigenous families, we have the highest removal rate in the country. Of all the children placed in foster care in 2020, more than 80% of them were placed even though there was no allegation of sexual abuse or physical abuse of any kind, let alone the horrors Tice cites. Far more common are allegations of neglect.

Why does this matter? Some might weigh the worth of tearing apart hundreds more families needlessly to save lives. However, the documented trauma and the long-term outcomes for children who are separated from their families and placed in foster care are serious and include increased rates of addiction, suicide, entry into the criminal justice system and teenage pregnancy. High school graduation rates and life expectancy are also impacted by family separation. Additionally, foster care isn't a safe alternative. The high rate of abuse in foster care is troubling and makes the likelihood of child deaths in foster care more likely.

Tice points out that, since 1998, court hearings have been open. I would invite him to come with me and see what happens for himself. Don't just pop in for a few minutes; spend a few weeks. See the cases where children really did need to be removed, where they clearly didn't and the wide range of complex, nuanced, in-between cases where the decisions are far tougher to make — but the ultimate costs to children and families are just as daunting as a death.

Joanna Woolman, Minneapolis

The writer is executive director at the Institute to Transform Child Protection.


We are drowning here

I am a teacher, and I am not OK. My students, their families, my fellow colleagues are not OK. School systems are imploding, and we are in crisis. The residual effects of the pandemic and the racial justice revolution are intense. Almost three years ago, when schools across the country went into distance learning, things changed for educational systems and will never be the same.

Schools need support. We need trauma-informed resources now. We need more staff and more options for children whose lives have been upended. As a teacher with 25 students in a classroom, I cannot single-handedly make these changes happen while trying to meet their escalating needs and maintain a safe learning environment. My students shared their thoughts with the Minnesota Senate Education Finance Committee in early January 2023.

There is money to be spent on services. There must be creative solutions posed and implemented to preserve what was once a satisfying career — education. The state of teaching today is unrealistic. The demands on teachers to continue to "teach on" are unmanageable. To meet state-required testing, to maintain safety, to keep up with weekly staff professional development, to put in the hours of work at home to prepare for lessons, to combat the internet and its impact on children's brain development as they've been exposed to inappropriate things (such as 8- and 9-year-old children playing Grand Theft Auto and seeing sexually offensive content) — this all leads to a desensitized culture. And it's all on display in our classrooms.

We are not OK. We are not prepared to meet the high needs of social and emotional learning that are children need. I propose that school districts create social and emotional learning programs that are at the forefront of learning, offer healthier food options at schools (this week my students were given chocolate milk, grape juice and chocolate muffins for breakfast), offer affordable health-insurance packages (I make an average of $800 less a month than four years ago due to rising health care plan costs and pay more out of pocket for health care visits than ever).

Society needs to recognize this. To the leaders of Minnesota: You can do better for our children and our teachers by listening to those who are on the front lines. Listen to the teachers, the education assistants, the families and the children. We need help now.

Kathy Seipp, Minneapolis


The tragic pattern

Why is it that those who analyze mass shooters (see "Elder mass shooters, a new variant in America's plague," Opinion Exchange, Jan. 30) almost always fail to identify the most common trait the shooters share? They are almost all male. It's true of perpetrators of domestic violence, too. And suicide, gangs and wars. We have a developmental and spiritual crisis with boys and men that underlies violence in its many forms, and as a first step, we need to recognize it and say so.

Rob Super, St. Paul


When girls broke through

A Feb. 4 article ("Game-changers") highlighted challenges facing two high school girls in 1972 following decades of sports programs for boys, but not for girls. Relief was granted to Peg Brenden and Toni St. Pierre by Judge Miles Lord enabling them to participate on boys teams in their schools. And they did.

However, the article includes a misleading quote from Brenden, "There were no girls sports when I graduated in 1972," leaving readers with the impression that no girls sports were available for girls in Minnesota. Please note these historical facts: The Minnesota State High School League approved bylaws for girls' athletics three years earlier in 1969, one of the first states in the country to add girls athletics to the existing program of boys athletics. Even before 1969, schools were developing girls' teams and competition was held in a variety of individual and team sports, with invitational, conference and regionwide tournaments.

After 1969, the league vigorously encouraged its member schools to step up their development of girls' sports, and MSHSL state tournaments would follow. Significantly, the first statewide tournament for girls was held in 1972: the MSHSL state girls' track and field meet at St. Cloud Apollo. Toni St. Pierre competed in the 1972 and 1973 state girls' track and field meets, setting state records and a national record. It confirmed the league's commitment to provide young women with fair and equitable opportunities to compete and reach for their personal goals.

There are times when individuals must seek legal relief when faced with obstacles restricting their opportunities. History written about 1972 must accurately reflect the surrounding environment when schools and their league had to confront and change decades of negative attitudes that girls should be content playing for fun and cheering for the boys from the sidelines. It required blood, sweat and tears to break down those barriers and bring about real and lasting change.

Now, we can watch and smile as young women change the face of the world.

Dorothy E. McIntyre, Minneapolis

The writer is a retired MSHSL executive.