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The Minneapolis branch of the NAACP on Wednesday urged parents to consider pulling their children out of the Minneapolis School District in response to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson's recommendation to close North High School.
Citing multiple school closures on the city's North Side and low test scores in those that remain, Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges accused Johnson and school board members of failing to educate north Minneapolis' children, most of whom are black.
Hodges issued a statement calling for parents "who value their children's education or future [to] seriously consider other options for educating their children."
The accusations were an affront to Johnson, who grew up in segregated Selma, Ala. "We have the responsibility of providing a high quality education to our students regardless of where they live," Johnson wrote in a statement to the Star Tribune. "All of our students deserve educational opportunities that will prepare them to be global citizens. I am committed to providing them with those opportunities."
Anger and confusion over Johnson's recommendation to shut down North High in 2014 drew more than 150 residents to Tuesday's school board meeting.
The turnout and strong reaction of North supporters led board members to request more time before voting on North's future.
Johnson's plan shouldn't have surprised anyone, Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said. The NAACP's harsh reaction to an enrollment and achievement problem that people have known about for years will only exacerbate the problems, Johnson added.
Mayor R.T. Rybak was traveling in northern Minnesota, according to an aide, and couldn't be reached for comment.
The NAACP's role
As the engine behind the "Choice is Yours" program, the Minneapolis NAACP may have unwittingly played a role in the mass exodus of students from north Minneapolis to suburban districts.
In the late 1990s, the organization's local leadership sued the state, arguing that state policies and practices concentrated poverty in Minneapolis, making it impossible for Minneapolis schools to adequately educate students.
A March 2000 settlement allowed more Minneapolis families access to suburban schools and magnet programs.
Interest was minimal at first but has increased in recent years, with hundreds of families leaving city schools for neighboring districts.
In his statement Wednesday, Hodges said that the school system has failed to respond to the challenge of other options.
"When the Minneapolis Branch of NAACP won the Choice is Yours lawsuit, the hope was the Minneapolis School Board would do everything in their power to win back the trust of Minneapolis parents. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Over the past several years, the decrease in enrollment, the continued low test scores and the numerous school closings are another indication of a failing educational system in Minneapolis."
Although school leaders have cited North's dwindling enrollment as justification for shutting its doors, Hodges said: "Lower enrollment is a result of systematic closure of elementary and middle schools that took place over the last two years."
But Minneapolis school board member Chris Stewart dismissed Hodges' comments as inflammatory and without merit.
In many cities, the NAACP has the resources to fight for equitable education for black children: Minneapolis isn't one of those places, Stewart said.
"They don't have a credible voice on education in the Twin Cities," Stewart said. "They're not capable of making any credible pathways to improve education. This could be their opportunity to prove credibility and competence. But I don't see it."
Hodges said Stewart's comments were "just reflective of the school board's attitude toward north Minneapolis."
Superintendent Johnson said she has the same goals as the NAACP leadership: quality education for all students.
The first-year superintendent has undergone intense criticism and taken on a politically radioactive issue -- closing a school -- to prove that she's not afraid to make major changes. "As superintendent, I promised to put students first in all my decisions -- a vow that will require me to make some difficult and unpopular decisions," Johnson wrote.
"Closing the achievement gap requires bold action that I am willing to take."
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491