Saturday, March 2, 2013

We All Need to Fight for Our Public Schools, Not Abandon Them

Minneapolis Public Schools promises an inspirational education experience in a safe, welcoming environment for all diverse learners to acquire the tools and skills necessary to confidently engage in the global community.
                                                                        -  MPS “Mission and Vision” webpage (emphasis mine)

It is the duty and the function of the district to furnish school facilities to every child of school age residing in any part of the district”
                                                                        - Minnesota statute 123B.02, Subd. 2. 

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) must provide an education for EVERY child that comes into its schools.  We continue to have a school board that is not willing to accept this obligation.  At the last Minneapolis School Board meeting on Tuesday, February 26, board members continued to abdicate their responsibility to serve all students.

One of the items on their agenda was a recommendation by the administration to sell a school building that was closed 8 years ago to a property company that would then lease it to a charter school.  There is currently a shortage of classroom space throughout the district, and yet Minneapolis is looking to sell off one of its buildings so a charter school can open in that space.  Why don’t they re-open this building as a district school?

School board members have repeatedly claimed that charter schools could better serve students of color and low-income students.  This is done despite the fact that the majority of charter schools do no better, and often worse than, true public schools.  Charters that are listed as “beating-the-odds" are based scores on standardized tests.  No attention is given to the charter schools’ ability to manipulate its student population such as weeding out students with the greatest challenges, or how they teach to the tests with “drill and kill" curriculum.  Rather than trying to better serve students of color and students from low-income families, the school board simply tells the students to try their luck with charter schools.

The Chair of the Minneapolis School Board, Director Monserrate, was notably quiet during the discussion of selling the building to a charter school.  Could it be his conflict of interest?  As Minneapolis parent Ralph Crowder pointed out during the public comment section, Monserrate had served on the board of Hiawatha Leadership Academy.  Hiawatha is the charter school operator planning to lease the Minneapolis Public School building that is for sale.

As if this blatant willingness to privatize the public schools they are responsible for was not bad enough, one of our school board members told parents and students that it might be best if they just left MPS.

Two weeks ago at South High School in Minneapolis, there was a fight at lunch that included as many as 200 – 300 students.  Many students and parents described this as the result of growing tensions between Somali-American and African American students.  Director Samatar said this was about “the leadership of the building, about the leadership of this district, including [him]self as a board member.”

He then said, “I will have no doubt, anytime that I see that the community has not been served...I will tell any [of them], anytime, if they don’t get what they need from the district with respect and decency, to get up and find another site, another school, another district…If you don’t get what you need from the district, you have to make…better choices.”

Why did he not tell them, public schools belong to all students?  Why did he not tell them to fight for their public schools, and that he, as a school board member, would lead that fight?  Instead, he, other school board members, and the Superintendent are quick to tell dissatisfied parents and students, we can't help you.

Public schools must serve all students.  We must do better, but we don't do it by abandoning groups of our students or privatizing our public schools.  If school board members don't share this commitment, they are the ones who need to make "better choices" and resign.


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