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Minneapolis Public Schools approves redistricting plan, here's what it means

Here’s an overview of what the plan entails and the arguments for and against it

In a controversial move, the Minneapolis Public School Board voted Tuesday night to redraw boundaries in an effort to address racial disparities.

The plan has garnered extensive coverage from Twin Cities news outlets, especially the Star Tribune, MPR News and MinnPost. Here’s an overview of what the plan entails and the arguments for and against it:

Shifting boundaries; reducing and relocating magnet schools

The board voted 6-3 in favor of Superintendent Ed Graff’s Comprehensive District Design plan, also known as CDD. The plan is set to take effect in the 2021-22 school year, though school board members have said the pandemic could delay parts of the plan.

The plan centers on redrawing attendance boundaries, reducing the number of racially isolated schools from 21 to eight. In addition, most kindergarten to eighth-grade magnet schools will be repurposed as kindergarten to fifth-grade elementary schools.

Boundary changes will mean that some elementary and middle school students will go to different schools when they move up than they do currently. You can find details on the impact for individual schools here.

Some magnet schools will be moved closer to the center of the city, which leaders say makes them more accessible to all Minneapolis families.

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District leaders say it will minimize moving special education students. Parents can apply to magnet schools using a lottery system, the school board’s executive summary says.

In addition, the summary outlines academic strategies, including a new K through second-grade math curriculum, ensuring all students can read by third grade and making "everything MPS offers more culturally relevant." 

The plan also entails adding three "Career and Technical Educational Sites." North High School's center will house information and technology, engineering, computer science, robotics and digital communication; a center at Edison High School will have business, law, public safety and agriculture programming; and South High School's center will offer auto, construction and healthcare programming. 

Leaders estimate that in its first year of implementation, the plan will cost about $11.5 million. Moving forward, costs are estimated to be about $10.6 million — 75 percent of which goes towards academic programming, the MinnPost reported.

The district says it expects to save $6.9 million in transportation costs, and that it has $4.6 million in integration aid for the plan.

Supporters say it’s a move towards remedying racial disparities

Minnesota has some of the largest racial disparities in the country, which were most recently outlined in a report by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank in October 2019.

District leaders say that the district’s current structure has resulted in yearly budget shortfalls, increased segregation and worse outcomes for North Side students, the Star Tribune reported.

“This is academic justice for a system that has failed black and brown children,” said school board member Kimberly Caprini.

In addition, school leaders who support the plan say it prevents the district from closing under-enrolled schools. About 63 percent of Minneapolis students attend school outside the district.

"I know you're going to get pressure given Covid of, ‘Why are we doing this now? Shouldn't we just wait until things get back to normal?’” said Mikisha Nation, who has three African American students in the district, MPR News reported.

"If we're really honest with ourselves, normal wasn't serving the needs of all of our students long before we ever heard of the coronavirus."

What those opposed to the plan are saying

The school board played hours of public comment via voicemail, most of which were against the proposal. The board also received hundreds of written comments.

Two petitions, totaling more than 3,000 signatures, asked the district to wait until schools reopened so that public dialogue would be more feasible. Many concerns also center on the potential negative impacts of uprooting school communities. 

Nekima Levy Armstrong, an activist and civil rights lawyer said that redrawing boundaries can't achieve equity on its own, the Star Tribune reported

"They feel that if there is a certain percentage of white kids in the class, if there is a certain percentage of black kids, Latinx kids, Somali kids in the class, that that's automatically going to close the gaps in education,” Levy Armstrong said at a community forum, per MPR News

"That makes no sense whatsoever if you're not dealing with the outdated and racist curriculum."

Moving the magnet schools would entail shifting Spanish immersion schools to another part of the city, where the Hispanic populations is not dominant, MPR noted.

During a virtual town hall, parents said the school board wasn't listening to people of color, while others said the plan is missing clear details about how it will affect bilingual programming. Parents also complained that information sent to families had not been properly translated from English to Somali and Spanish, causing further confusion. 

Board members KerryJo Felder, Bob Walser and Ira Jourdain voted against the plan. Walser and Jourdain had proposed to delay the vote until the district has had its plan reviewed by an independent auditor for equity.

“The idea is great, but we haven’t seen how it’s going to work,” Felder said. “We haven’t shown our work.”

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