Minneapolis Public Schools is about to make a dramatic change. Why now?

The Minneapolis Public School board is set to vote on its plan tonight. Can't that wait?

The Minneapolis Public School board is set to vote on its plan tonight. Can't that wait? Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

While teachers dedicate every ounce of our energy and effort to making distance learning successful for students during COVID-19, we are dangerously distracted by another looming threat from within our own district, the Comprehensive District Design.

The Comprehensive District Design (CDD) is a flawed, ill-advised plan that stands to erode the stability of our classrooms and our schools, which are currently on life support.

I ask, why now?

During a global pandemic that is devastating families, communities, and local economies, we need to remain focused on teaching and supporting our students. Why, when everything from the Olympics to Major League Baseball is on hold, is our district insisting on pushing through their agenda? Instead, Minneapolis Public Schools should put all of their resources into creating the best possible virtual classrooms, as we might need to teach virtually again this fall.

While we recognize the need for reforming our district to create equity and close opportunity gaps, we do not support the plan in its current form. The CDD, which the MPS Board of Directors will vote on during their May 12 board meeting, is not a plan informed by students, parents, or educators. Any design, created without community, student, and educator collaboration and buy-in, is destined to damage the overall trust in MPS. Any plan that has not been properly researched, vetted, assessed, or audited will fail. And, any plan that puts forth sweeping change that will disrupt entire communities without understanding the potential impact on those most at-risk is negligent and irresponsible.

Many of our Somali and Latino families are unaware of this potential disruption to their children’s education. The district’s attempt to reach families in both communities was dismal and disappointing. Attempts to translate and distribute materials were subpar, leaving parents confused about essential details that will affect their families.

The CDD will cause particularly devastating consequences to immigrant communities, as it calls for an elimination of K-8 schools. Many working parents, sometimes with two or three jobs, rely on the K-8 model to simplify their lives. Also, immigrant students, some of whom may have endured trauma or suffer from PTSD, feel supported and safe with their siblings in the same building and this possibility will be ripped away should this plan move forward.

Had MPS done its due diligence, they would know how devastating these changes would be for our immigrant communities. We cannot understand why Superintendent Ed Graff and the MPS Board of Directors have not commissioned an Equity & Diversity Impact Assessment (EDIA) for their CDD. According to district policy, EDIAs “are required to apply to all future policies, practices, programs, and procedures that have a significant impact on student learning and resource allocation. The impact assessment provides decision-makers guidance on how various MPS communities are impacted by the policy, practice, program, or procedure and offer alternative solutions so that no community is disproportionately impacted.”

So, we ask again. Why now? Why did the district not perform an EDIA or an independent, third-party audit on a plan that will have a “significant impact on student learning and resource allocation”? Why did ten recent assessments on plans for such issues as athletics and student placement considered warrant an EDIA, but not the redesign of our entire district?

Why is the district not showing their work? Minneapolis Public Schools is not demonstrating to educators how their plan is projected to improve our classrooms. As we expect of our students, we expect MPS leadership to show educators and families how their plan will achieve our shared goals. Yet, the budgets, the shuffling of students and resources, the loss of successful programming don’t add up.

There is too much to unpack here. We are in the midst of the worst pandemic in over a century. Parents are losing their jobs. Families are struggling. People are dying. And, teachers just want to focus on what’s important in this moment: being there for their students.

So, I ask again, why now, MPS?

Michelle Wiese is chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59 union.