From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Minneapolis schools suspended student 12 times in one year

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 15, 2014 - 3:44 PM

The Minneapolis school district was ordered to provide compensatory education to a special needs student after district educators suspended the students 12 times in one school year, according to court documents.

The 15-year-old student, identified as Eric in court documents filed Wednesday, is a black student that was labeled as having an emotional or behavioral disorder (also known as EBD).

In 9th grade, Eric was placed into the district's Harrison Education Center, which according to his attorneys is a locked and segregated education program for student with EBD.

The suspensions took place between September 2013 and February 2014, sometimes days apart.

On Sept. 24, Eric was suspended for just over a day for "disruptive behavior/insubordination." Two days later he was suspended again for "disruptive behavior/ threatened life of staff." The reasons for his other suspensions included

His mother, Erica, filed a complaint in May with the Minnesota Department of Education protesting the suspensions and requesting a change in the education the district was offering Eric.

An administrative law judge agreed, saying the district caused Eric a loss of educational benefit.

"The School District unilaterally changed Student's placement through a pattern of suspensions and exclusions that totaled more than ten school days in one school year," said Administrative Law Judge Steve Mihalchick.

According to his attorneys, Eric's suspensions violated his rights as a disabled student under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

A lawsuit in federal court filed by Erica's attorney seeks to make the district pay for over $50,000 in legal fees.

In August, the Star Tribune reported that suspensions jumped dramatically for Minneapolis public schoolchildren in kindergarten to fourth grade last year, even as school officials faced mounting criticism over inconsistency in doling out punishment.

The Minneapolis School District is facing intense scrutiny from the federal government over its suspension practices, particularly for sending minority children home at dramatically higher rates than white children.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson then announced she was banning suspension the district's prekindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students.

MPLS superintendent speaks out about CSI

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 14, 2014 - 7:00 PM

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson spoke publicly for the first time about the district's decision to award Community Standards Initiative with a $375,000 contract. 

The contract was awarded to the organization, led by Clarence Hightower and Al Flowers, in an attempt to help address the district's vast achievement gap. But the organization failed to meet its goals and the district canceled the contract, effective Oct. 17.

Johnson and the district have faced intense scrutiny for awarding the contract without a bid.

This is Johnson's full statement, which she gave at Tuesday's school board meeting:

I wanted to take a minute to address several issues around the Community Standards Initiative contract, and provide you with information on why a contract was awarded.

Given the academic challenges of our district, we know we cannot tackle the achievement gap alone. We rely on community partners to support our students and families in their success through programs and initiatives that supplement our daily work.

I remain committed to working with community groups and organizations that have the capacity to do the job and demonstrate results for our students—many of our partners succeed in this every day.

In considering the contract with CSI, my staff and I had many reservations about moving forward with it. I was cautious because it was apparent that they would need significant support and assistance from the district to fulfill the contract. MPS did more than our due diligence to help CSI succeed, even linking them up with our research and evaluation team, to develop a specific timeline for implementation and execution, as well as metrics to determine how the program was progressing. But I was also optimistic about the potential for students to benefit from the services that CSI said they could provide.

It was my hope that CSI could have reached the targeted students who needed access to resources in and out of school. Namely, utilizing the services of an experienced local clinical psychologist like Dr. Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya to support youth was a definite draw.

It is important to me that stakeholders feel they can publicly voice their opinions about the decisions we make on behalf of Minneapolis students. Several board members, elected officials and community members expressed support of this contract, which further influenced moving forward with the contract.

The full contract for CSI in 2013 was for $385,000 over two years, plus the $30,000 for the project manager. If the agreed upon work was completed, then the contract payments would have totaled that amount in the end. However, CSI did not meet the goals and metrics in the agreement and I was contacted by Clarence Hightower, who acknowledged that CSI did not have the capacity to meet the goals and objectives documented in the contract. That is when I decided to terminate the contract effective October 17.

 As we move forward, I think it is important that we continue to leverage community partnerships that propel us forward. We have many successful community partnerships helping us meet critical needs and achieve great results for our students, and yet we need to make sure those groups represent our diverse population of students. 
 

School board responds to letter regarding CSI

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 14, 2014 - 10:04 AM

The Black Advocates for Education received a response to their call for an independent review of the district's contract with Community Standards Initiative.

In their letter, the group demanded a review of the district's policies in awarding contracts without a bidding process. CSI received a non-competitive $375,000 contract.

According to the group's Facebook page, here is the response they received from Minneapolis Board Chair Richard Mammen.

Professor Levy-Pounds et al,

In response to the 10/8/14 "Open Letter Re: CSI Debacle and Calls for an Independent Investigation" authored by the Black Advocates for Education I offer the following on behalf of the Minneapolis Board of Education specific to the statements, questions and demands made.

1) It is the opinion of our District Counsel that Professional Service Agreements, such as the contract with New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church for CSI services, do not require a public bidding process.

2) Professional Service Agreements commonly appear on the “consent agenda” for approval. Board members have the opportunity to move specific items from the consent agenda for discussion and specific action.

3) The New Bethel contract was included on the consent agenda at the 5/13/14 Board of Education meeting. I am confident that all board members were fully aware of the performance-based contract as negotiated and recommended by the superintendent and her leadership team.

4) The board unanimously approved the consent agenda on an 8-0 vote. (Director Ellison was not in attendance due to illness).

5) We do not approve contracts behind closed doors. All communications of staff and board members are discoverable, all committee and board meetings are open to the public and I believe we have abided by all standards of transparency.

6) The board will participate fully in any investigation ordered by an appropriate authority pertaining to this contract or any other matter concerning alleged “breaches of leadership.”

7) Any further allegations, questions or demands should be directed to our District Counsel for response.

This board and staff are aware of, and working diligently to address, the educational disparities for our students of color. We will continue to reach out for community-driven solutions and engagement to achieve more equitable results.

Lastly, on a personal note, I fully concur with your statement: “It’s a crying shame that while adults play political games for self-enrichment and to increase their personal influence, Minneapolis students are suffering and their potential is being stifled.” Let’s move forward.

Best regards,
Richard

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