Protesters crowded a Minneapolis Public Schools board meeting to complain about several educators of color who lost their jobs during budget cuts.
About 100 protesters demanded that the school board and Superintendent Ed Graff rehire educators of color who were fired.
The protest made Tuesday’s meeting the most chaotic since Graff began his job in July, and ended in passage of a school board resolution to rehire or give a formal recommendation to rehire seven educators.
Graff said the most recent round of cost-saving cuts came with a lot of tension.
“The equity conversation has been a part of the discussions we’ve had both at the school level and the district level,” Graff said, as protesters hissed.
Though protesters don’t have firm counts of nonwhite educators let go throughout the district, they said they have heard anecdotally that those laid off include educators at multiple schools.
The Social Justice Education Movement, which organized Tuesday’s protest, said in a release before the meeting that it had found more than a dozen scenarios of employees, especially nonwhite ones, being “pushed out” for “advocating for students.”
School board chairwoman Rebecca Gagnon said it’s hard to verify assertions like that without employee breakdowns by race and gender, which Graff will provide to the board.
Graff announced in a February letter to school board members that the district faced a $28 million budget gap for the coming school year. His plan to deal with the shortfall included a 10 percent reduction in Central Services and a 2.5 percent trim to school allocations, in addition to a “one-time” use of reserves.
Moriah Stephens, a special education assistant at River Bend Education Center, who was terminated in January, said “I loved those kids with every fiber of my being.”
In St. Paul, schools are facing a $27 million shortfall for the 2017-18 school year.
There weren’t enough seats for protesters, and Gagnon said that the room was over its capacity. Demonstrators stood around the perimeter of the room, holding signs that said, “Our kids want staff that look like them!” and “This is not how equity works.”
One of many district educators who spoke at the meeting was Eduardo Salgado Diaz, an ESL teacher at Andersen United Community School. He was one of the teachers of color who was laid off.
Minneapolis schools gave him English skills after he moved from Mexico to the U.S. as a kid, Diaz said.
He said he wants “to be given the positive opportunity to teach students that share similar experiences.”
Advocacy by staffers is risky, said David Boehnke of the Social Justice Education Movement.
“This is not budget-related, they were not excessed — they were pushed out,” said Boehnke, who’s also a teacher at PYC Arts & Tech.
In a statement after the meeting, the district said: “Disciplinary decisions are made based on facts and with due process. The Superintendent believes it is critically important that our students have access to the best staff — including staff who reflect our student population and advocate for the needs of our students.”