Dozens of parents, students and staff members grilled the Minneapolis school board on Tuesday night about plans to restructure the district's schools to address race and class disparities.
Most of the speakers were critical, with many decrying the major upheaval the proposals could cause and some urging the school board to delay its April vote and come up with new options. Those who spoke most critically of the plans drew the loudest applause from the frustrated crowd.
"It takes away school choices for families," said Samsam Mohamed, whose two sons attend Dowling Elementary School. "My sons are thriving in Dowling, why take my choice away? … Will you ensure my sons, who are ESL students, have equal quality teachers?"
Mohamed was one of more than 100 people who packed the board meeting in north Minneapolis to weigh in on the proposals that district leaders have pitched to close the achievement gap among student groups.
The five proposals being debated aim to stem the flow of students out of the district, reduce race and class segregation, slash transportation costs and use those savings for classroom instruction.
The plans include cutting the number of magnet schools and locating them in the center of the city and, in some of the models, eliminating K-8 schools and using K-5 and 6-8 schools only. Attendance boundary areas for community schools would also shift.
Dowling, Windom and other magnets would be recast as traditional community schools. Some models would eliminate Windom's language-immersion program — another proposal that has stirred controversy.
Many Minneapolis families have been wary of Superintendent Ed Graff's restructuring proposal, noting that the changes would cause major upheaval across the city, increase segregation in schools and cause further hemorrhaging of students. Some have argued that the data the district relied on are misleading and does not take all factors into account.
Another factor that some parents felt went unaddressed was the mental health of students who would be uprooted by the plans.
"What the school district is talking about doing is moving a huge cohort of children who are already at risk for emotional and behavioral health issues into a situation that will amplify their stress," said Robin Huiras, whose 7-year-old is prone to anxiety.
Heather Anderson was one of the only speakers who supported the plan. She said that the district may have to disrupt the current system to address the nagging achievement gap in Minneapolis schools.
"In order to do anything equitable, we have to tease apart the parts that are not equitable," including school boundaries, she said.
Graff and his team are expected to recommend one of the models to the school board on March 24. The school board plans to vote on the final proposal in April.