Frustration and anger spilled out as parents packed a Minneapolis school board meeting Tuesday night to voice concerns about the district’s emerging strategic plan that’s aimed at leveling the playing field for all students, regardless of race and economic status.
Though the plan was not on the agenda, parents and others spoke passionately during the public comment portion of the meeting.
A shouting match erupted between a group of parents after some — demanding priority enrollment in high-performing schools — skipped others who had signed up to speak before them. The meeting went into recess to bring back order.
And some Spanish-speaking parents got frustrated with district leaders when the translation devices they had weren’t working, forcing the meeting to go into recess. Later the board asked interpreters to do live translation.
A boundary study, which only focused on elementary and middle schools, suggested district magnet schools should be centrally located in the city and the total number of magnets should be reduced from 12 to seven to improve integration and lessen high-poverty schools.
Meanwhile, attendance boundaries for community schools could be redrawn, reassigning nearly two-thirds of students to new schools to fill under-enrolled school buildings.
District leaders are also considering reconfiguring grade levels for elementary and middle schools. This could mean doing away with the K-8 model and adopting K-5 and 6-8 schools, a change that could affect about nine schools and drive away parents who find comfort in having their older and younger kids in the same school.
Among them are Suado Mursal, Halima Jama and Farhia Mohamed, who are parents at Clara Barton Open School and send three children each to the school because it’s easier for them to watch after their children in one school. Mursal, Jama and Mohamed said they will leave the district if the school’s grade levels are reconfigured.
“I’m worried,” said Mursal, who does most of the parenting because her husband is disabled. “I can’t transport my kids to two different schools. I don’t have a choice but to leave this district.”
The district may also take a hard look at sibling preference, which gives some school-age children greater weight in lotteries for seats in high-demand schools. Some parents and district staff are still adamant that the proposed changes, including nixing K-8 schools and reconfiguring magnets, will lead to increased segregation, enrollment losses and possible school closures.
But parents say they are not going down without a fight. Some have started to organize, attending school board meetings, pressing board members to field their questions and staying active on social media to plan their next moves.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, parents from several schools, including Windom, Barton and Dowling, showed up in full force, hoping to sway the board’s decision in their favor.
School board members do not respond to questions or comments during the public comment period per board protocol.
Superintendent Ed Graff said he will unveil the final draft of his plan on Jan. 28, months after his initial proposal drew intense pushback from district staff and parents, pressuring the district to delay a final school board vote.
In the past, Graff made it clear that he’s not opposed to school choice as long as parents can provide their own transportation to their preferred schools.
He said the goal of his now-revised plan, which the board is expected to vote on in April, is to create systemic changes by offering the same access to resources across the city to boost learning outcomes for minority students and stem the tide of families of color who are fleeing to neighboring school districts and charter schools.
But district finances are getting tighter even after voters approved $30 million in funding in November 2018. Any model chosen by the district must be financially sustainable, especially now that the district is facing a $19.6 million budget deficit for the 2020-21 school year, which is projected to grow much larger in the coming years as costs rise.
In January and February, district leaders are planning to hold community meetings and gather feedback before the school board takes its final vote on the plan. Structural changes will not happen until the 2021-22 school year, with some big implementations taking longer.