In the middle of Bancroft Elementary School’s cafeteria, surrounded by different national flags, a dozen Latino parents sat down to talk about the future of Minneapolis’ schools.
The parents, there for the regular meeting of the school district’s Latino Parent Advisory Council, had heard about the district’s proposals to reshape its system. The effort could force thousands of students to change schools, and has divided parents and teachers who believe it would either hurt or help their children, depending on where they live.
The district has said the redistricting would in particular help students of color by redistributing resources and closing an achievement gap with white students. But huddled around a lunch table, the Latino parents said they think the changes would hurt them if it meant moving to a different school.
“They feel frustrated, that they don’t have a voice,” said Dulce de la Rosa, president of the Latino Parent Advisory Council. “They feel like their hands are tied.”
To call them minorities is misleading; more than half of all students in Minneapolis Public Schools are either Latino or black, a large portion of which are Somali-American students. In interviews last week, many of those parents said their voices have been mostly unheard by district leadership.
Yet the arguments against redistricting vary among immigrant groups. Latino parents say they are mainly focused on how the district’s shifting priorities could cut short their children’s time at their schools. Somali parents dislike the plan for splitting K-8 schools into K-5 and middle schools, which could separate siblings and complicate their commutes.
For Paula Cole, the issue is complicated. She is a math specialist at Folwell School Performing Arts in south Minneapolis, a K-8 school that would lose its magnet status and be shrunk into a K-5 under the district’s proposed models. She is also a Latino member of the Richfield school board.
The families at Folwell, many of which are black and Latino, are worried about the abrupt stop to the arts education their children have received for years.
“The issue of having the magnets has been bigger than the actual grade levels,” said Cole, whose son is in the sixth grade and taking string lessons at the school. “Families at Folwell, the ones who are fighting, are fighting for the performing arts.”
Parents whose children are in the district’s dual language immersion schools, many of them Latino, are also worried, Cole said. They are organizing not just at Windom Dual Spanish Immersion School, whose program would be closed under the redistricting, but also Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center, where they foresee a rush in enrollment.
Ultimately, Cole hopes the final proposal the school board votes on in April is less disruptive than those currently on the table, one that can still move toward better balancing resources across the city.
“The claim about sustainability is real, and the claim about North Side students not having the same equality vs. south is also real” she said. “I believe there is opportunity for a model that is not as drastic as we see right now.”
For Somali parents, the main concern is abruptly dividing their families. On a recent weekday, some sat outside the main office of Clara Barton Open School waiting to pick up their children.
Ahmed Mohammad, who has three children at the school and one coming in next year, said the elimination of K-8 schools would be challenging. The oldest, in eighth grade, corrals the others when school is out and makes sure they’re together before hopping on the bus. She also has a cellphone in case they need to reach him.
“They all ride in one bus, they all wait in one place,” Mohammad said through a translator. “Now they’d have to scatter. ... It’s going to create a lot of chaos in our planning.”
Asha Farah said it’s crucial for her family to stay at Barton. Her oldest son, in fifth grade, helps the youngest, in first grade, with reading and other class work. They are also restricted in terms of mobility; they live nearby in low-income housing.
“I am a single mother with two kids,” she said. “There are a lot of immigrants in this community. I’m worried: If this happens, am I supposed to move?”
Dirk Tedmon, media relations coordinator for the district, said the district has listened to those concerns and proposed two models that keep two K-8 magnet schools. Superintendent Ed Graff is expected to unveil the final redistricting model to the school board later this month.
“It just shows in a very tangible way that we’re listening to that feedback,” he said. “We’re not opposed to making changes to meet those needs.”
Still, the geographic divide that has emerged over the last months remains true with Somali families, said Zeinab Omar, a bilingual educator at Clara Barton. Somali parents in north Minneapolis feel they are at a greater disadvantage under the current system, while those in south Minneapolis believe the redistricting would take away the resources they found in the area.
Back at the Bancroft cafeteria, school board Chair Kim Ellison sat at a table to listen to the parents. They questioned her about the redistricting and how it could affect their children’s schools.
Ellison mentioned the district is working on a student placement policy that would ensure schools have a certain demographic mix. The school board could also ask the superintendent not to displace current students.
The parents remained dubious.
“Why do they always treat us Latinos like this?” de la Rosa said. “The people in charge of this change are not thinking about that.”