Minneapolis school board members listened to hours of public comment Tuesday night via voice mail during a virtual — and possibly final — discussion on a controversial proposal to reshape the state’s third-largest school district.
The meeting spanned several hours, with many praising the district proposal and others pleading for officials to delay a May 12 school board vote until the pandemic subsides. The school board was originally set to vote April 28 but pushed it back two weeks so teachers could focus on starting up distance learning.
“Parents and educators are focused on their new normal and relying heavily on their school community,” parent Shannon Cooper said in a voice mail board members listened to from their own homes. “Please pause this plan and give us time to understand it and how it affects our families.”
Other parents urged the board to go forward. “Please just continue to do good governance for the most marginalized,” said Heather Anderson, a parent of two sixth-graders who attend Justice Page Middle School. She supports the district’s plan and urged the board to stay the course on its May 12 timeline.
The redistricting proposal would redraw attendance boundaries and relocate magnet schools to the center of the city to distribute resources more equitably and address a potential $20 million budget shortfall. It would also cut some of the district’s most popular programs and shift many students to new schools in the process.
Tuesday’s remote discussion looked much different from past school board meetings, despite it arguably being the most pivotal.
Before the pandemic, hundreds of parents and teachers packed school board meetings to weigh in on the proposed changes. Parents and teachers would wave signs at school board members and applaud speakers who shared similar views on the redistricting plan.
During the virtual discussion, voice mail testimony was at times muffled or drowned out by echoes or shaky cell reception.
Many parents criticized the district and school board for taking public comment in this format, noting that call-in information was posted just days before the deadline for testimony. They asked the board to delay its vote further.
That call has grown louder in recent weeks, with more than 2,800 people signing a petition urging the board to delay its vote until public comment is possible.
“Anybody that votes for this in the middle of this pandemic is a slap in the face to this community,” said Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, a parent of two students in the district.
But many others said that now is the time for action. The systemic change the restructuring would bring is meant to address racial disparities, a nagging achievement gap and the budget shortfall.
Students of color on the city’s North Side have long been missing out on the district’s most popular academic programs, which are clustered in south Minneapolis. Officials say lack of access to these programs has led to worse outcomes for North Side students, which is why they want to centralize magnets and career and technical education programs.
Paula Luxenberg, who has two children in the district, praised leaders for recognizing longstanding inequities and having the courage to rectify them. She commended the school board for delaying the vote two weeks but asked members to make sure they don’t postpone it again.
The pandemic has helped put the redistricting discussion into perspective, Luxenberg said, by shining a light on systemic inequities. She and other parents pointed to difficulties with distance learning, where some students have access to the devices and internet they needed to learn remotely while others have neither.
“Those who are already ahead are getting even more ahead during this time, and those who are struggling are struggling even more during this time,” Luxenberg said.