A diverse group of parents opposing the Minneapolis School District’s controversial school restructure plan took to Facebook on Wednesday night to dissect the proposed changes and accuse district leaders of failing to engage with communities of color.
“We don’t have a voice,” Silvia Ibáñez said during the virtual town hall forum. “Of course we need a change, but we want to be part of the process.”
Ibáñez, a Minneapolis schoolteacher and parent, lamented that many immigrant families who love their child’s school may not even realize that they would be uprooted under the plan. It’s unclear what that will mean for popular bilingual programming.
Those grievances echo a petition circulating online calling for the school board to delay its May 12 final vote on the redistricting plan because parents won’t be able to weigh in publicly during the coronavirus pandemic. That petition has more than 3,000 signatures.
The Comprehensive District Design plan (CDD) would reshape the state’s third-largest school district by cutting and relocating magnet schools to the center of the city and redrawing attendance boundaries. The sweeping proposal aims to address racial disparities, a nagging achievement gap and an anticipated budget deficit of nearly $20 million. Without action, the district might have to permanently close a significant number of under-enrolled schools.
“We feel like this is the right thing to do and this is the right time to make these changes,” Superintendent Ed Graff told reporters earlier this month. “We’re not wanting to have our students wait any longer.”
But critics say that pressing forward with the vote during a public health crisis is insensitive and goes against the wishes of parents and teachers — many of whom are homebound, trying to navigate distance learning for their own children.
For non-native English speakers, in particular, getting information about the plan’s potential impact has been a struggle. Parents complained Wednesday that informational packets distributed to Spanish and Somali families were not accurately translated from English.
“There was a lot of confusion,” said Zeinab Omar, a school bilingual aide.
Others are skeptical about whether systemwide reshuffling of thousands of students will actually help close racial gaps in academic performance. Michael Dueñes, a Seward Montessori parent, lamented that the plan fails to earmark any specific funding toward that end.
“The proof should be on them to show us why this is going to work,” he said. “And that’s really insulting to those of us who live in the district.”
Gov. Tim Walz has ordered all public schools across the state to stay closed until May 4.
Activist and civil rights lawyer Nekima Levy Armstrong said approval of the redistricting plan could lead to a further exodus of black families from the district who are “voting with their feet.”
“Keep calling,” Armstrong urged listeners. “It’s not too late to change the minds of school board members.”
Staff writer Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.