After Minneapolis teachers’ strike reveals divisions, ‘all eyes are on the district’

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Students missed almost three weeks of classes due to a teachers’ strike. The superintendent has announced that he is leaving the district this summer. A school board member resigned, citing a lack of trust. And the head of human resources resigned.

All of this has happened in the past four turbulent weeks for Minneapolis Public Schools. The strike exposed and heightened tensions in the district, exposing division and dysfunction as a new wave of parents and community members tuned in, wondering what the strike would mean for their own families. They have seen conflict escalate, frustration build, and misinformation and backbiting spread online.

“I think what worries a lot of parents is that there is such a culture of mistrust and such a culture of disrespect that I see in the district, towards teachers and families,” Angela said. Denker, whose two sons frequent Lake Harriet. Community school. “And I think that led to a lot of – rancor, I think, is a word I use – in the district that was really hard to see.”

On Tuesday, the day students returned to class, they watched a school board meeting derailed by students who said they didn’t feel heard. At the end of this meeting, the superintendent was out. Frustrated by his absence, among other issues, two school board members also left.

One of those council members, Sharon El-Amin, said she hopes the council can meet and the district can improve its communication and engagement with the community.

“All eyes are on the district right now,” she said. “I’m not saying all [board member] going to think the same way, but we have to be able to unite.”

Board member Nelson Inz agrees, saying the board needs to focus on its mission as public servants now tasked with appointing new leaders.

“As a person, I must not let my personal feelings about all the damaging things that have been done get in the way of my duty to my community,” he said.

The board has yet to review the tentative agreements that ended the strike. The costs of the deal have not been made public, but they include increases for teachers and education support professionals, class size caps, more mental health support for students and protections for teachers of color.

Strained relationship

The dynamics that led to the Minneapolis teachers’ strike played out in urban districts from Chicago to Los Angeles. After decades of stagnating wages, shrinking funding and heightened scrutiny, teacher unions in recent years – even before the COVID-19 pandemic – have begun to use strikes as a tool more often. And they brought the priorities of the community, from social workers to affordable housingat the negotiating table.

“A lot of times when members of the public think of teachers’ unions, they think, ‘Well, these teachers are just out to get better salaries for themselves,'” said Jon Shelton, associate professor of democracy studies and justice at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.” But it’s been a conscious embrace of that strategy, and that’s because a lot of those unions understand that if they want to be able to teach more effectively, their students need to have the support they need to succeed in the classroom. “

The pandemic has compounded these needs and strained union-district relations.

“Negotiation can be difficult at first when you have a few issues,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois. “But if you then add issues that develop during a public health crisis — or that the public health crisis has exposed — you’re going to put people under a lot of stress, and that’s going to make it harder to negotiate.”

In Minneapolis, both sides repeatedly asserted that the other refused to sit down at the negotiating table.

The district said the union’s demands exceeded its financial limit, reiterating the district’s projected $21.5 million budget shortfall, despite using $75 million in one-time federal relief funds. Still, the union held firm, insisting the district needed to reset its priorities.

Gayle Smaller, a north Minneapolis parent who interviewed strike stakeholders on behalf of an outside union, said he thought the strike “really forced the district to look at how it was doing its business differently and how he valued the staff differently”.

But at the same time, he said, he thinks the district gave it their all in the beginning — and ultimately the strike drove a wedge between the union and the district, and also created divisions within the district and individual schools.

“Nobody felt like another person was supporting them,” Smaller said.

“Pain and Division”

The animosity has left a bad taste in the mouths of parents already exhausted by nearly two years of distance education and the upheaval of school boundaries.

Families were leaving the district before the strike, creating financial pressures that contributed to the breakdown of negotiations. The parents say they fear it will continue, but they are also wondering if they should leave themselves.

Shiva Mittal, whose two children attend Seward Montessori School, said he was disturbed by communications from the district during the strike that appeared to blame teachers, and believes he and other parents are staying in ignorance of district goals and plans.

But moving her children to another neighborhood does not seem to be a solution.

“If… it was just academic achievement that mattered to us for our children and exposure to a more diverse environment wasn’t as important, we could just say, ‘OK, it’s time to move to Edina, I guess,” or “It’s time to move to Hopkins,” he said. “But I also don’t think it would get us what we’re looking for for our kids.”

Kristy Wesson, the mother of Minneapolis School Board student representative Jake Wesson, said she knew he was stepping into the role at a volatile time, but she never expected the tensions and injuries reach such a climax.

Still, she said Jake was learning important lessons: A lot of things can be true at once. Members of a community bring different experiences and perspectives. The issues within schools are complex, layered and often long-standing.

“It’s clear there is a lot of pain and division in our community right now,” Jake Wesson wrote in a statement. “Students are the ones who ultimately feel the impact of these decisions and [fellow student representative] kennedy [Rance] and I am committed to keeping student voices at the forefront of discussion. »

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