Racial Disparities Focus For Minneapolis School Board Candidates

A forum, “Creating a School climate to Promote Racial Justice,” was held at New Creation Church, North Minneapolis, on October 26, 2106. Seven of the eight candidates for the Minneapolis School Board appeared.

Participating were:
At-large: Kim Ellison
District 2: Kimberlee Caprini and Kerry Jo Felder
District 4: Josh Reimnitz and Bob Walser
District 6: Tracine Asbury and Ira Jourdain
Amber Jones, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, was the moderator.

Doug Mann, candidate for the at-large seat was unable to attend. He did submit written answered to the previously announced questions which is included below.

The forum was hosted and facilitated by ISAIAH, Neighborhoods Organizing For change, and Minneapolis Rising.

Candidate’s Issues and “Elevator Speech” Pitch To Voters

Video at top: entire forum.
Video below: We asked three of the candidates to briefly tell us their issues or give us their “elevator speech.”

Answers to Storyteller Questions submitted by Candidate Doug Mann

Q: Democratic Governance: How can MPS ensure that the voices of students, staff, families and the community get heard and respected in decision-making, both within the actual school sites and at the District level? What will you do on the MPS Board to create better interaction, inclusion and connection with students, staff, families, community in Board work and decision-making?

Mann: We need schools that work for everyone, not just the privileged few. What we need is governance based on equitable principles. The district has long maintained a large pool of newly hired teachers, to save money, and this has a disparate impact on students of color. This is recognized as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Where their is an injury, there must be a remedy. The district must take the steps necessary to shrink its pool of newly hired teachers, reduce exposure of students to inexperienced teachers and bring teacher turnover rates to low levels in all schools.

Q: School Resource Officers: The discourse around police in schools is becoming increasingly more public as the broader movement for police accountability grows exponentially in our nation. Considering the thoughts and experiences of students, families, and staff across racial identities, do you support SROs as a component of ensuring a positive and safe school climate? Why/Why not?

Mann: Police should not be embedded in the schools. They must be called in to the schools to deal with crimes against folks on school property. Other than that, police should not have anything to do with enforcement of disciplinary policy. The district has policies that marginalize and criminalize students without amplifying that effect with harsh disciplinary policies. [For example] The district has failed to evaluate ability grouping practice as required under Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]. The district has segregated students labeled as having emotional behavorial disorders into EBD rooms and into detention facilities within the district.

Q: Student Support Staff: Budgetary analysis shows that students with physical, emotional, and cultural barriers to learning get very low levels of professional support in Minneapolis and throughout the state relative to similar schools across the nation. In addition, high turnover for support staff in some of our most challenging learning environments makes it impossible to provide a stable and nurturing environment for students with the highest needs. Do you believe we should change our approach to providing adequate and stable support staff in Minneapolis Public Schools and, if so, how?

Mann: Yes. How? I need to know what is driving the high turnover among support staff. I need to see data about separation of employment: firings before and after probation, quits, layoffs. Based on testimony from employees at school board meetings, I get the impression that the district often violates due process rights. I question whether employees can challenge an unfair evaluation. There are work evaluations that are unfair on their face, e.g., not constructive. Do support staff in the more challenging learning environments get enough support? Is high exposure of students to newly hired and less experienced, less qualified teachers making the job tougher in those tough schools environment.

Q: Special Education / Disciplinary Practice: Given the disproportionately high number of non-white students in special education, what changes would you make to ensure that we remove racial bias from the process of identifying special education needs? Once students are so labeled, many end up on a track toward being excluded and eventually dropping out. Many end up in the criminal justice system. What additional resources and learning opportunities could MPS provide to help these students discover their potential brilliance?

Mann: To the greatest extent possible, Special Ed students should be assigned to mainstream classrooms, with appropriate services and in-classroom support. Special Ed is too often used as a dumping ground for students who are overexposed to inexperienced teachers and watered-down curriculum. That [adversely] affects self-esteem, motivation to learn, and conduct. We need more support staff to help integrate students identified with Emotional-Behavioral Disorder into mainstream classrooms.

Q: Teacher Diversity: 16% of teachers in Minneapolis are teachers of color, while students of color represent 67% of the student body. Unfortunately, this racial disparity can result in implicit bias, limited curriculum choice, punitive discipline, and distrustful relationships between students and teachers. What specific commitments and/or policies would you propose to diversify the teaching force in MPS as well as make our district a model in equitable practices? What can be done to promote teacher diversity either at a district- or state-level?

Mann: Why the lack of diversity? Too little hiring and / or poor retention? I can only speculate, though I have studied the issue long enough to make some educated guesses I want data from the Human Resources / Personnel Department which it should be collecting and braking down for the district’s affirmative action plan. Is the district attracting a diverse pool of applicants, and is there evidence of racial bias in the hiring process (e.g., a larger share of white applicants getting job offers, or getting job offers earlier in the hiring season). Are teachers of color more often assigned to schools with adverse working conditions that could motivate them to quit, along with a greater risk of getting “laid off” or fired.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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