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Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Minneapolis students deserve a better district design plan 

We believe this plan will not only be damaging to students, but can potentially dismantle the Minneapolis Public Schools, pushing the door wide open for privatization.

teacher's desk
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Last spring, Minneapolis Public Schools revealed a plan to redesign the district that would move more than 60% of MPS students to new schools. In January, Superintendent Ed Graff revealed even more sweeping changes. It became clear then that systemwide family and educator engagement would occur only after the models were developed. Educators were told in February that any cuts to staffing and school closures would be reported after the April vote.  From the beginning, the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) was created without substantial input from students, families, principals, or educators.

Asha Farah
Asha Farah
As parents and teachers of MPS students, we agree that big changes are needed to close opportunity gaps, balance budgets, and overturn the status quo. But the CDD as currently presented is not that plan. Even teachers — the people who are closest to our children — reject the CDD in its current form. We call on the residents of Minneapolis to do the same.

Flaws in the plan are numerous and harmful to kids.

The CDD does not include details about how it will close opportunity gaps. Shockingly, it also does not include an evidence-based academic plan designed to elevate students of color. It does not maintain International Baccalaureate (IB) magnet programming at any elementary or middle school, despite the academic rigor and successful social-emotional curriculum this program provides.

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The CDD is not financially sustainable. The plan does not explain how the district will pay for the retrofitting of schools and the moving of programs and staff. Administrators say the plan will save money on busing, but the plan does not show how much new busing routes will cost. There is no analysis of what happens if and when many families leave the district even though history in our district is clear: When schools close and families are forced to change, we lose students by the thousands.

The CDD does not adequately engage city and county leaders to address the wealth disparities and housing instabilities that are a major cause of the disparities in our schools.

The CDD does not provide stability for our students who need it most. Under the current plans, 15,000 children under the age of 15 will be uprooted and placed into unestablished school communities, even though research shows that school transitions negatively impact academic achievement. Of those who will be moved, 10,000 are students of color, double the number of white children who will be disrupted. Immigrant families will be hit the hardest, with disruption affecting 74% of English-language learners and 64% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch at school.

Ron Simmons
Ron Simmons
In addition to the instability and chaos that will affect our students, the CDD further proposes changes that contradict research and MPS’ own data:

1) The CDD will eliminate all or most of our city’s K-8 programs, despite evidence that K-8 schools in Minneapolis show better achievement, better school climate, and higher rates of retention. The district already loses 15% of children at the end of fifth grade from K-5 schools and only 3% of fifth-graders from K-8s. When K-8s closed in North Minneapolis, against community objections, many families left the district.

2) The CDD will eliminate six dual language sites: Two developmental dual language (DDL) in the north part of the city, three DDL and one dual-immersion in the south, and reopen only one additional dual-immersion site in the south (a tremendous loss for Spanish-speaking residents).

3) The CDD will eliminate both of the city’s progressive Open schools and also IB as a magnet option, even though families voiced their preference for these models in district surveys.

4) The CDD will eliminate the district’s only environmental magnet in an era of crisis caused by climate change.

5) It will close one of only two Montessori magnet schools for the entire school district.

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As a top-down plan, the process has led to fighting among families and educators who all want to address inequities and provide access to educational models and programming that best meet the needs of all Minneapolis students. This is not a viable path forward. Because we care deeply about the students in our schools, we urge residents to contact the Minneapolis Board of Education directors and superintendent to demand a transparent, democratic process that includes all stakeholders in the redesign of our schools.

Beyond the Minneapolis Public Schools District, we urge all Minnesotans to contact their city, county, and state leaders to protest the chronic underfunding of our district that now amounts to $90 million dollars every year. Underfunding threatens the notion of equal access to a viable public education as a core tenet of our democracy. In the meantime, the district has estimated a savings of $4.5 million in transportation costs with the CDD. Uprooting more than 15,000 children from their school communities in order to save an estimated $4.5 million dollars in a $650 million budget is absurd.

Silvia Ibañez
Silvia Ibañez
We believe this plan will not only be damaging to students, but can potentially dismantle the Minneapolis Public Schools, pushing the door wide open for privatization.

And now, in the midst of a global pandemic that has our schools closed with families and educators isolated and unable to meaningfully participate in decisions that will dramatically affect their lives, the superintendent and president of the Board of Education have announced that the district will continue moving forward with the
unveiling of an unknown final plan and board vote. It is devastating that plans are moving forward during a time of pure survival for our students and families.

Situations like these affect families of color and immigrants more deeply and drastically, with less access to resources — the same families that would be largely displaced by the changes so far modeled by CDD. Many of our families don’t have the time to pay attention to what the members of the board could vote on behind closed doors while struggling to obtain the necessary resources to support their families. Given that many of our families do not have access to the technologies that make it possible to participate remotely in meetings, and have already been minimally involved in the process from the beginning, we ask the residents of Minneapolis to support us in requesting that the CDD decision-making be suspended until this crisis situation is resolved and the normal flow of activities is restored.

Asha Farah is a Clara Barton Open School parent. Silvia Ibañez, Clara Barton is an Open School and Windom Dualt Immersion Spanish Immersion School parent and Emerson Dual Immersion teacher. Ron Simmons is an Andersen Community & Developmental Dual Language K-8 School teacher. Additional signatories to this commentary are: Abdullahi Aden, bilingual program assistant, Armatage Montessori Magnet; Greta Callahan, Bethune Community School teacher; Daisy Fontaine, Folwell Performing Arts Magnet parent; Michael Johnson, Whittier International Elementary School parent; Brie Monahan, Seward Montessori Magnet ELL teacher; Joshua Nixon, Lake Nokomis Community School parent; and Francisco Segovia, Dowling Urban Environmental Magnet parent.

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