Protesters force Minneapolis School Board to rehire people of color

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A recent school board meeting in Minneapolis was the scene of a large protest against a series of firings that affected people of color disproportionately. The Superintendent, Ed Graff, says the firings are the result of a $28 million hole in the district’s budget – the result of overspending for five years straight. Protesters rejected that explanation. Their direct action forced board members to make an on-the-spot decision, over-ruling their superintendent, about rehiring fired staff. Below is a post about the issues driving the public outcry, written by Iris Altamirano, a community organizer and former candidate for Minneapolis School Board.


Firings Ring out at Minneapolis School District

by Iris Altamirano

In a family outing recently, I had to explain the sound of gunshots to my son. He is 5. We were about 100 miles north of our home in Northeast Minneapolis and we heard many shots fired. Not one, or two, but a lot. Enough that we retreated into the camper to muffle out the sound. The shots did not last long, but long enough to make an impact. I want to put out another talk that needs to be had. This talk is in regards to the Minneapolis Public School’s latest firings.

Two Fridays before spring break, shots were fired into the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE), Global Education, and Educational Support Professionals (ESPs), or paraprofessionals. The vast majority of personnel in these departments are a reflection of the people of color and indigenous (poci) communities they serve. In Minneapolis, 66 percent of students are of color. The same cannot be said of the city’s teacher workforce. Only 16 percent of the district’s teacher workforce are teachers of color. By contrast, the district’s paraprofessionals are a comparatively diverse group: 48 percent are people of color and 11 percent are bilingual. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

Taking aim at those departments and their personnel was Superintendent Ed Graff, in what can be considered his biggest decision since being hired by the Minneapolis Board of Education last July. The same Ed Graff that was widely praised for his positions or racial equity when he was hired. Communications Director Tanya Tennessen said during a budget discussion that cuts were made “to get ahead” of Minneapolis Public Schools’ 5 year streak of operating $28-30 Million over budget. The “getting ahead” resolution is to cut 25% of the district budget and 10% of each school sites budget. At a recent District Parent Advisory Committee, I asked Superintendent Ed Graff how race is playing out in recent cuts, regardless of talent, qualifications, or effectiveness? Graff’s answer was disappointing: “Institutional racism has been around long before [him],” he stated.

Today, this is how institutional racism is playing out in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Shots Fired at the District level

– All women of color in Director or Executive Director positions have been cut, including the highest-ranking Latina & Deputy Education Officer, Elia Bruggeman, Director of Family & Partnerships, Lynnea Altas-Ingebreston, and Director of Teaching & Learning, Macarre Taynham.

-The Title I department has been dismantled, which included many people of color.

– The Integration Director, Dr. Lanise Block has been dismissed.

– Many of the teachers of color that were just hired by Macarre Traynham, Director of Teaching & Learning (who was also cut), have been let go.

– All Cultural Liaisons in the Office of Student, Family and Community Engagement (OSFE) and the only known survivor of the OSFE is a white male.

– Seven candidates from the Aspiring Principals pool were invited to interview for three positions as Principal or Assistant Principal. The four candidates who were put back into the pool were all people of color, and the three who received positions were all white.

Shots Fired at the School Site Level

– Schools cannot cut the math teacher, so across the board the vast majority of schools have cut their ESPs (Educational Support Professionals). In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff of color. In many, many schools these are the ONLY staff that speak Spanish, or Somali, or Hmong, that are communicating with families.

– Parents have been reporting that in at least one school, Pillsbury, the Spanish language programing is being greatly reduced.

-Educators like Eduardo Salgado Diaz, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Andersen United Community School, and Lor Vang, a Social Worker at Hmong International Academy, and countless others, who will no longer be serving Minneapolis kids.

The many, many shots fired not only have several local Latinx leaders very concerned, but they ring out in familiar ways for those of us who come from humble backgrounds, and are echoes of the societal inequalities that affect us every day. These are echoes of the forms of overt, subtle, and implicit bias that plague our society and our school district.

There are so many different things that can be done. It is hard to pick one thing. There is no magic bullet solution, but these are systemic problems that have to be addressed on so many levels because there will be negative impacts.

To begin the generations-long conversation, we want an explanation as to why such a disproportionate number of staff of color are being fired, “forced to resign,” or “not being recommended for rehire,” even when the total number of jobs in public education are growing?