Students from dozens of Minnesota schools walked out of their classrooms Monday afternoon in a coordinated protest against racial injustice and the killing of Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old man shot by a police officer after a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on April 11.
The walkout, organized by a group called Minnesota Teen Activists and coordinated primarily on Instagram, began at 1 p.m. and included a moment of silence at 1:47 p.m., the time of Wright's death.
In schools in Eden Prairie, Robbinsdale, Elk River and Moorhead, and cities across the metro and beyond, students seized on the moment to express hurt and frustration over Wright's death and broader issues of racism and inequality. For many, it also was an opportunity to highlight problems with racism and discrimination within the schools themselves — a topic that's been front and center in many districts this year amid a wave of student activism.
"We are hoping that not only school districts receive our statement of action but as well as the state of Minnesota," said Aaliyah Murray, a Fridley High School student and a founder of the Minnesota Team Activists group. "We are sick and tired of injustice."
In Fridley, students streamed out of the middle school for a short walk to Fridley High, where they stood alongside older teens holding signs reading, "Say His Name! Daunte Wright," and "No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police."
About 300 students, mostly high schoolers, gathered in downtown Minneapolis near U.S. Bank Stadium. As snow fell, they chanted: "You can't stop the revolution," and "We are the students, the mighty, mighty students."
The walkout came as attorneys in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were presenting closing arguments, National Guard troops were patrolling Twin Cities neighborhoods in case of unrest, and nightly demonstrations over Wright's death were taking place in Brooklyn Center.
Washburn High School student Nyagach Kueth said the walkouts aimed to show schools "that our lives matter more than education right now."
"How can we possibly focus on school when the whole world's eyes are watching Minnesota now?"
At Minnetonka High School, student organizers of Monday's walkout said their aim was to publicly hold school district leaders accountable for earlier promises to tackle concerns about racism, diversity and equity.
Since last summer, a group called the Minnetonka Coalition for Equitable Education has been holding demonstrations and pushing for changes ranging from anti-racism training for school staff to updating curriculum with wider community input.
The district has followed through on some of the group's requests such as adding hate symbols to the list of items banned in school dress codes, expanding its reach in hiring to target more diverse job candidates and creating an online reporting system for incidents of harassment and discrimination.
District spokeswoman JacQueline Getty said the district has made "significant strides" toward its goal of boosting diversity, equity and inclusion, in part because of students' input.
"Outreach from our students in particular certainly influenced the development of this goal and the speed by which we have been working on the elements of it," she said.
But Ahlaam Abdulwali, a Minnetonka senior, said many of the district's responses have been inadequate. She said students of color have been encouraged by the support of individual teachers and community members, but felt dismissed by school district leaders.
As an example, she said students have told the district that they want to hear clear, specific messages of support from school leaders after traumatic events like the deaths of Wright and George Floyd at the hands of police or the recent mass shooting in Atlanta in which many victims were women of Asian descent. She said students see the district's unwillingness to do that as evidence that leaders haven't or don't want to make real changes.
"I've seen a really big difference in the attitudes and sentiments that people had last year," Abdulwali said. "It's just the school administration that isn't making solid policies and actionable items that will create a change that's permanent."
In Becker, southeast of St. Cloud, about four dozen students walked out in solidarity with the Black community but also to address some recent incidents of bullying, verbal attacks and physical confrontations between students based on race or sexual orientation, according to junior Nick Roehl.
"The culture needs to change," said Roehl, a member of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) group that meets at the high school.
Becker Superintendent Jeremy Schmidt said Monday he sent a letter to district families stating discrimination has no place in school.
But students and staff affiliated with the GSA say the administration's response is not enough.
"The step that we want them to take is to go out publicly and denounce the things that have been happening," said Heather Abrahamson, GSA adviser and social studies teacher. "The silence speaks volumes."
Jenna Mitchler, assistant superintendent for Bloomington Public Schools, where students have organized this year to urge change and call out problems with racism and diversity, said it's important for school leaders to consider the many ways in which educators may have once thought they were listening to students — but perhaps were not.
She said Bloomington and other districts now are developing systems that give students a voice in long-term planning and other school decisions. In the short-term, specific changes in Bloomington include new "cultural proficiency" training for teachers and changes to how the district categorizes student discipline.
Mitchler said it's clear that school districts need to consider students' perspectives in a more meaningful way than they may have in years past.
"We have to listen," she said. "And if we're not creating spaces for it, students are going to create their own spaces."
Staff writers Jenny Berg, Mara Klecker and Anthony Lonetree contributed to this report.
Erin Golden • 612-673-4790