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Students Can’t Wait. We Deserve Better Now.

By Our Turn Students

We Urge the Board to Vote Yes on the Comprehensive District Design

Commentary from Minneapolis Public School students on the Comprehensive District Design to be voted on by the school board on May 12th.

Authors Arielle Elmore, Patrick Henry High School; Marianna Hefte, South High School; and Milena Troha, Southwest High School are leaders of Our Turn’s Project Equity.

We’re high school students from across Minneapolis, working together in a student movement to fight for equity in education. 

We urge the Minneapolis Board of Education to vote for the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) on May 12th because it will immediately lead to a more equitable education for all students, regardless of their race or where they live. Students need this change, and we shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

The district has acknowledged it doesn’t currently provide every student with the same quality education and that students of color get less of everything: fewer electives, exclusion from advanced classes, poorly maintained facilities, and more.

These inequities aren’t hidden from us. We see and experience them every day. Students are aware more than anyone else of the disparities in our system, and we see them no matter what school we attend. It is infuriating and it hurts. This problem is urgent and needs to be solved now.

The CDD is a major step forward for students. It addresses some of our biggest concerns including:

  1. Equal access to course offerings – Across the city, the disparity in access to higher-level classes is tremendous. Southwest High School, which has the highest percentage of white students of all MPS high schools, offered 68 advanced courses in 2019. North High School, which has the highest percentage of African American students of all MPS high schools, offered only 10. African American students deserve to have the same access to advanced courses as white students, and the CDD aims to close this gap.  

  2. More diversity in advanced courses – Within schools, the number of white students taking advanced classes is much higher than the number of African American students. In 2019 at Washburn, only 46% of African American students were taking at least 1 advanced course, while 86% of white students were taking at least 1 advanced course. Similar disparities occurred at Southwest, South, Roosevelt, Patrick Henry, and Edison. Advanced courses should be as diverse as the school itself, not made up mostly of white students.  

  3. Consistent facilities and facilities management – If school buildings don’t provide a learning environment, students can’t learn. The difference of building quality and maintenance across the district is obvious, even just by looking at schools from the outside. Southwest has had a recent remodel, and looks beautiful, with lots of windows, stable and secure building structure, and plenty of room for every student. South, however, has very few windows, tiny hallways, and problems with vermin infestations. Students deserve better. 

We’re proud to have provided vital student input on this plan. We’ve surveyed students across the district and compiled our list of demands directly from what students experience every day. We made sure that the district heard us and that the issues we raised were addressed. We also challenged them to do better and to be more specific in some areas.  

Some people are pushing to delay the vote due to the pandemic or because the CDD doesn’t go far enough. Rather than a reason to delay, the pandemic has further shone light on these inequities, making it more urgent. 

Delaying the plan is the same as doing nothing. It means students of color will continue to have fewer course options, less advanced learning opportunities, and deteriorating buildings with outdated supplies. Students will be harmed and have limited options for the future. Students of color will leave their neighborhoods, traveling up to an hour to school each day to get the same academic options as white students. It would mean another broken promise since the students who contributed to this plan won’t ever benefit.

Although a number of affluent white families are threatening to leave the district over this plan, it must go through. The district will never be able to serve students of color as well as they deserve if they continue to cater to the demands of a few white families and ignore the needs of hundreds of Black families. Now, we have a chance to fix the issues that have pushed Black families out of the district for decades. It is time for MPS to serve the many, not the few. 

The CDD isn’t perfect. It should go further. But voting for the CDD now doesn’t prevent the district from making other urgent changes. We’ll hold the district accountable for that, too.

But we can’t wait. On May 12th, the Board has an opportunity to immediately improve the day-to-day education students receive and create a more equitable school system now. Minneapolis students deserve it.