Minneapolis Public Schools leaders announced Tuesday that they have delayed a vote on their controversial redistricting plan until May 12 so teachers can focus on starting up distance learning during the pandemic.

Leaders had planned to bring their Comprehensive District Design proposal forward for a school board vote on April 28. Parents and teachers pushed back, saying the restructuring plan would distract from distance learning, which began Monday, and not get the public scrutiny it deserves while many are confined to their homes.

The virtual school board discussion on the redistricting plan scheduled for April 14 will go on as planned. Public comments will be taken via voice mail and played during the meeting for board members to hear.

"We are committed to governing, but just as we have adjusted previously, we will adapt as unpredictable health conditions unfold," school board members said in a joint statement Tuesday.

The redistricting plan would redraw attendance boundaries and reduce and relocate magnet schools to the center of the city. It aims to create a more equitable district but would cut certain programs and shift many students to new schools in the process. The proposed changes have been controversial, with hundreds of parents and teachers packing school board meetings to capacity in recent months to weigh in.

Superintendent Ed Graff has said the need for these changes is urgent. The systemic change the restructuring would bring is meant to address racial disparities, a nagging achievement gap and an anticipated $20 million budget shortfall. Without action, the district might have to permanently close a significant number of under-enrolled schools.

Critics have said that moving forward with the vote during a pandemic is insensitive and goes against the wishes of parents and teachers. Two petitions, one signed by more than 1,850 people and another signed by more than 1,250, call for the district to delay its vote until schools reopen and public dialogue is possible.

Activist and civil rights lawyer Nekima Levy Armstrong believes a major restructuring like this should not be voted on until physical meetings can resume with public input. She is also skeptical about whether redrawing boundaries and relocating magnet programs will help close racial gaps in academic performance.

"Merely delaying the vote on the [plan] by two weeks, during a time in which physical meetings and full public participation is not possible, is unconscionable and undermines public trust in the process," she said Tuesday night.

Those wanting to leave public comment through voice mail for the April 14 meeting must call 612-668-1229 and follow the instructions. The first three hours of voice mails left by noon Saturday will be played during next week's virtual meeting.