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Feds react to "Wangster Day"

Red Wing School District leaders entered 2010 hoping the infamous Wangster Day episode was in their rear view mirror.

In August, federal officials made sure that didn't happen and placed the district under the microscope following a U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigation into race-related attitudes in the district.

The district agreed to a 17-point plan with the Office of Civil Rights calling on local schools to adopt new strategies, policies and procedures toward racial tolerance.

So far the plan is working, said Craig Morris.

"You're on the right path," the Red Wing native told Red Wing School Board members at their Dec. 20 meeting.

Morris, a former diversity officer at University of Wisconsin-River Falls with experience in OCR investigations, was named to a panel tasked with reviewing attitudes in the district. He conducted an independent assessment of racial attitudes that he reported didn't show "evidence of institutional or systemic bias in the district."

The incident has been a sore subject in the district since it was brought to light in October 2009.

During 2009 homecoming week, dozens of Red Wing High School students arrived at school clad in hip hop clothing. Principal Beth Borgen said the unsanctioned event had been staged in previous years.

After learning students had pulled off the stunt again, Borgen ordered them to change clothes; many had a change of clothes with them, she said later.

The incident drew heavy fire from members of Red Wing's black community, who perceived the event as a mockery of black culture.

The most vocal critic of Wangster Day - which Borgen said also went by the name Wigger Day - was Red Wing resident Maxine Pruitt. She called on Red Wing School Board members in 2009 to remedy the situation by issuing an apology and mailing out letters to parents that would have described the event and called for an end of it.

The board instead decided to address offensive behavior through a district newsletter.

Pruitt, a black woman whose daughter was a Red Wing High School student at the time, filed a formal complaint with OCR in December 2009, alleging the district failed to properly respond to the incident.

The OCR agreement calls on the district to remain under review for two years.