Student and community leaders demanded answers from Minneapolis Public Schools on Monday after the district placed North High Principal Mauri Friestleben on administrative leave, then reinstated her over the weekend — but only until the end of the year.
At a morning news conference outside district headquarters, representatives of the Minneapolis NAACP and the North student body pledged their support for Friestleben. They questioned the district's timing and motivation for placing her on leave months after the principal escorted students to City Hall to protest the Minneapolis police shooting of Amir Locke in February.
Cynthia Wilson, a North High parent and president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said people want to know who at the district made the decision? And why now?
"You left the North community high and dry," Wilson said. "We need answers."
District officials did not respond to specific questions about Friestleben's employment status or whether she will remain with the district beyond this academic year.
"We are focusing now on giving North students the support they need moving forward through the end of the year," district spokeswoman Crystina Lugo-Beach said. "Principal Friestleben is continuing at North in order to do just that."
Wilson, North High student body president Khadija Ba and the community members who joined them at the news conference pressed for Friestleben's permanent reinstatement. They characterized her as a paragon for a community that has suffered a traumatic year.
On Feb. 9 — the same day students walked out to protest Locke's shooting — their 15-year-old classmate Deshaun Hill was shot and killed.
Also, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on North High students' routines, Ba said, but Friestleben's leadership has provided much-needed consistency. She said her dismissal against the backdrop of students' protests makes it seem as if the district doesn't have their back.
"We don't feel like we're being cared about," Ba said.
Friestleben could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
In 2019, she was appointed principal at North High, the school with the district's highest concentration of Black students at nearly 82%.
Previously, Friestleben led Lucy Laney Elementary for eight years, where she was widely credited for four consecutive years of rising standardized test scores. The school was featured in the KARE-11 documentary "Love Them First."
North High families say Friestleben has a knack for connecting with students and earning their trust and respect.
Before Friestleben's arrival, Wilson said, it was common to hear about students using their phones during class. She said Friestleben persuaded them to put the devices away, a testament to their respect for her.
The popular leader's announcement Friday of her sudden departure prompted an outcry.
In a note she posted on social media, Friestleben said she had long expected the district would discipline her for escorting students during their February walkout and sit-in at City Hall. Friestleben said she was "strongly advised" against attending the protest and that she had "no ill will" toward the district.
"I will not hold anyone other than myself accountable for this outcome and ask others to do the same," Friestleben wrote.
North High families were incensed. The district reversed course Sunday and announced Friestleben would be back through the end of the year.
A Facebook group demanding Friestleben's permanent reinstatement had more than 750 members by Monday afternoon.
Jerome Treadwell, a senior at Highland Park High in St. Paul and executive director of MN Teen Activists, said North High students who had originally planned a walkout Monday decided against it, opting instead for ongoing protests for the remainder of the year.
"We must preserve the teachers and adults who are in our corner," Treadwell said.