The next fight in the Minneapolis Public Schools redistricting saga will be over proposed high school boundaries that have yet to be fleshed out and are fueling fresh angst among parents.
District officials will hold two information sessions this week on the changes to attendance boundaries and career and technical education programs. But they admit the high school boundaries are still being drawn and could change in the coming weeks. Parents say the plans lack detail, leaving them clueless about where their children would enroll and worried that the district will not have enough time to consider feedback.
The district gave parents their first look at pathways from elementary to middle and high schools on Jan. 28, two years into the redesign process and less than two months before officials plan to pitch a final proposal to the school board. Some parents felt blindsided by the rollout.
“I don’t know where they would go,” Cory Branden said of his son, Bjorn, and daughter, Marta, who are ninth-graders at South High School. “Less than two months away from making probably one of the biggest changes … I’ve ever seen in Minneapolis schools, and they still don’t know what they’re doing?”
The district is hurtling toward an early April vote on a sweeping plan to reshape the public-school system, which also includes a reduction in and relocation of magnet schools and changes to elementary and middle school boundaries. The redesign is meant to address racial disparities, declining enrollment and an anticipated budget deficit of nearly $20 million.
Taken together, the proposed changes could shuffle thousands of Minneapolis students to new schools. Parents are growing increasingly anxious about the potential upheaval and have urged the district to extend its timeline.
Karen DeVet, the district’s chief operations officer, said high school boundaries are the last step in the redesign sequence.
Officials first focused on elementary and middle schools, moving and cutting magnets and redrawing boundaries to reach their racial integration goals — 65% students of color and 35% white students. The district is highly segregated by race and income, with about 20 “racially isolated” schools including many in north Minneapolis.
The high school boundaries could not be drawn up until the middle school models were set, DeVet said. Leaving them untouched was not an option because cohorts of students who attend middle school together would, in many cases, be split and sent to different high schools.
“To suggest that we can change one part of the system but not yet impact another part of the system is not what we’re viewing as supporting the values of … community schools,” DeVet said. “We always knew that this would be a full preK-12 plan.”
Student futures in doubt
In a brief interview Wednesday, Superintendent Ed Graff said the high school boundaries are still in flux. The maps that are public are “hard to read,” he acknowledged, “but I guess that’s where we are.”
When asked if the district will have a final plan ready by its self-imposed March 24 deadline, Graff said “I just don’t think I have an answer for you at this point.”
This week’s meetings may not bring much more clarity.
District officials will present maps for each high school that overlay the current boundaries with what is modeled, DeVet said. But the maps will still be short on street-specific labels, she said, so parents should not “make enrollment decisions based off what they see next week.”
School Board Member Bob Walser criticized Graff and the district for rolling out the high school boundaries in the final weeks of a yearslong process. He said he has yet to be briefed on the most up-to-date boundaries.
“I completely agree with the sense of parents that they’re being blindsided because I am, too,” Walser said.
Alyssa Polack, a teacher at Green Central elementary whose son, Orrin, is a sophomore at Southwest High School, said the district should not displace students who will soon graduate. She urged leaders to consider grandfathering in students like Orrin, who would be a senior when the potential changes are expected to take effect.
“My son is on a course,” Polack said, noting that Orrin is on the school baseball team. “I think that saying no one is grandfathered is not fair.”
The idea of grandfathering some students is “absolutely on the forefront of our minds,” DeVet said. But the district is approaching it with caution, she said, because doing so for all students could eat up resources and upend school transportation.
“That is part of what we’re discussing now,” she said.
Changes to career and technical education
The district has polished its plans for high school career and technical education programs.
Courses that teach skills such as computer science, engineering, robotics and agriculture — which are currently scattered across several schools — would be centralized under the district’s proposed redesign, shifting all programs to North and Roosevelt high schools.
Three programs that had not been assigned to a school as of January will be detailed this week.
“What they’ll see next week is the foundation of what our final proposal will have as it relates to high schools,” DeVet said.