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The Fight Against School Resegregation

The Fight against Resegregating the Minneapolis Public Schools
Speech to Socialist Action Forum
Mayday Bookstore, Minneapolis, MN - 23 April 1998

Mediation of the NAACP Lawsuit is Not Enough
Speech at the March 17 rally which replaced the Minneapolis School Board meeting

Repeal the Community School Plan!
Resolution - April 1998
from The Fight Against Resegregating Minneapolis Public Schools

Nine Reasons to Introduce a Motion to Rescind the Community School Plan at the April 14 Minneapolis School Board Meeting
Statement - April 1998
from The Fight Against Resegregating Minneapolis Public Schools


The Fight against Resegregating
the Minneapolis Public Schools
Speech to Socialist Action Forum
Mayday Bookstore, Minneapolis, MN - 23 April 1998

       Just a little more than two years ago, a loosely organized network of parents associated with the NAACP began to participate in protests against against a "community school plan." This network of parents, also known as the parent action team is the sponsor of the recent School Board Protests.

         Many of these parents had begun to meet with lawyers representing the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP and several parents in an educational adequacy lawsuit filed against the State of Minnesota in September 1995. A similar lawsuit was filed by the NAACP lawyers on February 23rd of this year, although the NAACP is not named as a plaintiff.

        The NAACP filed an educational adequacy lawsuit, and the parent action team has been protesting because of the fact that that the Minneapolis Board of Education is running a multi-tier K-12 educational system.

         The top tier is for children designated as college bound, also refered to as the academically gifted and talented. The Minneapolis Public School system is committed to providing a "world class" education for the college bound. An education that rivals the best that any suburban school has to offer. An education comparable to what is delivered at many high-priced college preparatory schools.

          For college-bound students, the Minneapolis Public School system is among the top-ranked urban school systems in the country, and scores on standardized acheivement tests for the college bound have been rising from year to year. But the quality of education for a huge majority of students is catastrophically low and deteriorating. It compares unfavorably with the education recieved by most public school children in Chicago, Detroit and New York.

          In recent years, about 50% of the students in the Minneapolis Public Schools have been graduating from high school. A very small minority of lower tier students are likely to pass the Minnesota Basic Standards Test, which students must pass in order to graduate in the year 2000 and thereafter.

         Of the 60,000 eighth grade students who took the 1997 Minnesota Basic Standards Test, 59% passed the reading exam and 70% passed the math exam. But in Minneapolis only 33% of the eighth graders passed the reading exam and 36% passed the math exam.

         The Minneapolis Public Schools probably designates about half of all white students, and no more than 10 to 15% of non-white students as college bound. That's my estimate, and it's a generous estimate of the proportion of non-white students who are on a college-bound track.

         On the 1997 California Achievement Test and Northwest Achievement Level Tests, over 50% of African-American students in grades 2,3,4,5 and 6 had reading scores which put them in the bottom fourth of students tested nation-wide, and 7-11% scored among the top fourth. White students in the same grade levels had scores that put 18-23% in the bottom fourth and 38-49% in the top fourth.

        It would be safe to say that, with few exceptions, sixth graders in the Minneapolis Public Schools who scored in the top quartile of nationally normed tests are in programs for the academically gifted and talented.

        Last Fall there was a great deal of discussion and debate about these disparities in educational outcomes. In the pages of the Star-Tribune and other media outlets, the prevailing view was that these disparities reflected disparities in innate immutable learning abilities, or capacities, which can be estimated by age 5 with benchmark tests and Cognative ability tests, the new term for intelligence tests.
These tests are used to label children as smart, stupid and extremely stupid. Instruction is delivered accordingly.

         For example, no attempt is made to help so-called low-performing children achieve grade level expectations from year to year so as to prepare them adequately for admission to a college or trade school. They will not have a realistic chance of getting one of the many relatively high-wage jobs where applicants are weeded out on the basis of tests that measure and compare academic skills.

        The NAACP has made a big deal about segregation of the schools because, historically, the Minneapolis Public Schools and school districts around the country tend to allocate more resources to educate the college bound. If it costs money to solve a particular problem, such as a shortage of text books, it is more certain to be fixed if a lot of affluent white parents are complaining about it than if a lot of poor and non-white parents complain.

          Another issue is the social isolation of children from poor families and the concentration of oppressed nationalities in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. Segregated schools reinforce segregated housing patterns and a segregated job market. Most jobs are filled by applicants through personal contacts, such as being tipped off by a future co-worker or having someone known to the employer say that you have a good attitude and good work habits.

          De-segregating the schools and the classrooms is the necessary first step in the fight for equal access to a meaningful education. It is in the class interest of just about everyone who has to work for a living to fight for a quality, equal, public education because the existence of a large pool of poorly educated workers with limited job opportunities makes it easier for the capitalist class to exploit all workers.

          During the past 25 years the wage levels of under-educated workers have been massively driven down, pushed to bare subsistence levels and below. That puts downward pressure on wage rates higher up the ladder.

         There has been a long-running war against public education that has contributed to falling standard of living for American workers. On a per pupil basis, spending on public education at all levels has declined. Per pupil spending on K-12 education by the Minnesota legislature declined about 10% in the late 80's and early 90's. The share of educational costs covered by tuition at community colleges increased from less than one-third 20 years ago to more than one half. Higher costs and higher admission standards are among the devices being used to restrict access to colleges and trade schools.

         So far as the ruling capitalist class is concerned, the schools are working pretty well. Politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties have been orchestrating this attack. Class and racial privileges were consciously built into the educational system.

Protests Against the Community School Plan

        The "Community School" plan is roughly outlined in a resolution adopted by the School Board on June 27, 1995 and ingenuously titled "Eliminating the Gap: ensuring that all children can learn." The "Eliminating the Gap" resolution also directed the curriculum development staff to develop curriculum guides that promote the tracking of students, and it doesn't address the district's failure to educate children who do not speak English as their primary language.

         The Mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sayles-Belton, an African-American woman has been one of the community school plan's biggest boosters from the word go. The Minneapolis City Council unanimously endorsed the Community School Plan, and not a single office-holding politician in the State has opposed it. With help from the Star Tribune newspaper, the School Board has been able to conduct a one-sided propaganda war in order to manufacture consent to this policy.

          It wasn't clear that the community school plan was actually a plan to re-segregate the Minneapolis Public Schools until November 1995, when the proposed school attendance boundaries were made public. The "Eliminating the Gap" resolution didn't come right out and say that the boundaries for attendance areas would be drawn in such a way as to physically separate children on the basis of class, race, and ethnicity.

         At that point the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP opposed the plan and attempted to block its implementation through appeals to the State. At a hearing on February 6, 1996 a petition signed by over 600 inner city residents urged the State Board of Education to reject the School district's request for a waiver from the State's desegregation rule.

         The Desegregation Rule required that the proportion of children classified as white and non-white at every school site be no more than 15% above the district average.

         The Minneapolis Board of Education was first compelled to take steps to desegregate the schools by a federal court order in 1972. The School Board was out of compliance with the Court desegregation order while under court supervision between 1972 and 1983. The court order was lifted on the basis of a pledge by the State to enforce its desegregation Rule. The School Board also failed to comply with the desegregation rule.

         The Minneapolis branch of the NAACP sponsored protests against the community school plan, but the focus of the protests soon shifted toward the School Superintendent, Peter Hutchinson, a white male hired by the Board over several qualified applicants, including persons of color. Hutchinson lacked minimal qualifications for the job of School Superintendent required by Minnesota's constitution. A small but determined group of protesters may have had something to do with Hutchinson's "suprise" resignation in June 1997.

          His replacement, Carol Johnson is qualified for the job, happens to be a African-American female and is reportedly a member of the NAACP. Johnson had worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools for many years as a teacher, assistant principal and Principal before hiring on as a Superintendent of a suburban School district. Johnson was hired within a few weeks and without a formal search process.

          When the protests resumed this year, the idea was to force all of the School Board members to resign by calling them "racist segregationists" and "uncle Toms". This was the action plan developed by one of 4 break-out groups that met for 20 minutes at the end of a meeting attended by a total of 150 to 175 persons at Zion Baptist Church on January 29th of this year.

        Carol Johnson spoke at the January 29th meeting and evoked a sympathetic response from many with a plea to give her, and the community school plan, a chance. Many seemed inclined to take a wait and see attitude, but most were tired of waiting for things to change for the better.

         About 25 persons met at a planning meeting on February 5th for an intervention into the February 24th Board meeting. It was attended by a member of the school board, Ann Berget, and a Star-Tribune reporter, Ann O'Connor.

         Several persons at the planning meeting argued against the name-calling strategy and the demand that the School Board resign, as called for by the action plan, warning that the School Board and its allies could easily isolate and discredit such an effort.

        On the morning of February 24, the day of the first School Board protest of the year, the Star-Tribune published a letter to the editor from the Mayor of Minneapolis and a member of the School Board. It called upon the school board to back a mediation process between the State and the Minneapolis NAACP in an attempt to settle an educational adequacy lawsuit out of court.

        At the February 24 School Board meeting, representatives of the NAACP and community leaders with close ties to the Democratic Party called upon the School Board to declare its support for mediation. The School Board members were happy to comply with this "demand."

         After the February 24 School Board meeting, the Star-Tribune argued that the protests were pointless and should be called-off. The NAACP had gotten the support for mediation that it wanted, angry parents had let off some steam, and the few who made specific demands on the School Board were easily ignored.

         On March 17 the School Board members walked out of the Board meeting as protesters entered the room. The pretext was the performance of a ceremonial dance by a American Indian dance troupe. The School Board had allowed the same performance at the meeting on February 24. However, this time they walked out, ordered the cable T.V. crew to turn off the T.V. monitors, and returned to the assembly room about an hour later to formally adjourn the meeting.

          The March 18 Star-Tribune newspaper ran a headline on the top of page 1 of its Metro Section, "Protesters Bust-Up School Board Meeting," with a story that depicted the protesters as violent and irrational. Several newspapers ran editorials designed to prepare public opinion for the possibility of mass arrests and a justifiable police riot at the next Board meeting.

           By the 3rd of April I had put out a flyer which called for picketing and attendance at the April 14 School Board meeting. It raised the demand "Rescind the community school plan," and presented a sample resolution. A piece of writing on the reverse side presented nine reasons to introduce it at the April 14th meeting.

          A few of the protesters who spoke at the rally which replaced the March 17 School Board meeting raised the idea of busting up school board meetings as a strategy to force out the School Board. It was likely that the next school board meeting would attract at least a few persons who were open to this idea.

          The question of tactics had come up at a NAACP-sponsored forum on April 7. [The Minneapolis NAACP branch president] Leola Seals and I spoke out against the use of any tactics that might be characterized as disruptive or obstructionist. No one argued in favor disruptive or obstructionist tactics.

         On or about the ninth of April, notices of future Board meetings reached their destinations, accompanied by a new set of procedural rules for Board meetings, and copies of Minnesota statutes on Interference With Use of Public Property, Unlawful Assembly, and Disorderly Conduct.

        Under the new procedural rules the Board Chairman may, at his disgression, limit attendance to 110, the number of persons who can sit in the chairs ordinarily provided in the assembly room. The Chairman may set a time-limit of 3 minutes for each speaker.

         No one was too sure what to expect at the April 14 School Board meeting, except that the Board chairman would attempt to restrict our participation as much as the new rules allowed.

          About 20 activists met on Friday April 10 and quickly came to an agreement that we did not want to disrupt the School Board meeting. The School Board needed a pretext to put anyone out, or to order the cops to make arrests. We wanted to be sure that they didn't find one.

         To back up its well-publicized threat to arrest "disrespectful" protesters, the Board hired a dozen uniformed police officers for this occasion. Uniformed police officers were posted near three barricaded check points between the building's front entrance and the third floor assembly room.

         On April 14, about 75 showed for the rally to end segregation outside of the building at 807 NE Broadway, where the Minneapolis School Board met. A few dozen opponents of the School Board's "community school" segregation plan chose to be in the assembly room by 5:30, as the school board meeting began, rather than attend the rally.

          The outdoor rally was under way before 5:30 and concluded at 6:30, when comments from the public came up on the agenda at the School Board meeting. Only about 30 of the rally's participants attempted to get into the Board meeting when the rally ended. Only two parents came to the April 14 rally and Board meeting with young children. At the School Board meetings on February 24 and March 17, there were about 150 protesters, including many parents who brought young children with them.

          However, calm and orderliness prevailed at the School Board meeting on April 14. One of the parents introduced a resolution to rescind the community school plan that was endorsed by many of the protesters. Others commented on the community school plan, tracking and other policies and practices which effectively deny an adequate education to most working class youth, especially members of oppressed nationalities.

           The necessary first step in the fight for a better, more equal education for K-12 students in Minneapolis is to demand that the School Board rescind the community school plan.

            On the basis of a demand to rescind the community school plan, endorsements can be solicited from many prominent individuals and organizations for educational forums, rallies, picket lines and marches.

           In the context of a campaign to rescind the community school plan, School Board meetings can be utilized as an educational forum. Every School Board meeting is broadcast almost-live on the radio and on a cable access station. It's rerun a few times on the cable access station, with a total audience of several hundred viewers.

           Many activists have endorsed a resolution to repeal the community school plan, but did not support it as a central demand at a meeting attended by a fairly large body of activists. The group also agreed to a proposal to build a march and rally against segregation and racism, and to make that activity its exclusive focus.

           Its going to be easier to get endorsements for a march against racism and segregation from many organizations which represent oppressed nationalities and workers, such as the NAACP and most trade unions, than it would be to get endorsements for a motion to repeal the community school plan. Most people will say they are against racism and segregation.  Just about every office-holding politician in Minnesota will say they are against racism and segregation, and just about every politician in Minneapolis is for a metro-wide desegregation plan. But at the same time, every one of these politicians, without exception, is for the community school resegregation plan.

            If you are tied to politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties, or committed to a strategy of reliance on politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties as a way to advance the interests of the constituency of an organization and your own career, this is not the time to call for the repeal of the community school plan.

         The way to fight for an end to racism and segregation is to rely on the capacity of workers and oppressed nationalities to organize and fight in their own interests, independent of the capitalist class and its political representatives. It's the only way that we will move a single step closer to a quality, equal, public education.


Mediation of the NAACP Lawsuit is Not Enough
Speech at the March 17 rally which replaced the Minneapolis School Board meeting

         What brought us here this evening is the fact that the educational needs of most students of color and poor whites in the Minneapolis Public Schools are being neglected as a result of policies that this School Board promotes.

        The Minneapolis School Board is carrying out a resegregation plan, a hyper-segregation plan which concentrates students from poor, mostly non-white families in some schools, and students from affluent, mostly white families at other schools.

        And children are further segregated in the class rooms. The Minneapolis School Board advocates the use of "ability-grouping," which in practice is used to label and track students into high-, medium-, and low-performance instructional groups.

         Teachers are directed to "ability-group." Ability-grouping is recommended in the "Grade Level Expectation" manuals for English language Arts which were distributed to teachers in the Fall of 1997.

         The district has also been aggressively marketing the use of ability-grouping to parents of "high-ability" children, with considerable help from the Star-Tribune and other local newspapers.

         These policies are doing serious harm to many students in the Minneapolis Public School.

         It's fine that the school board and the State legislature have come out in support of mediating issues raised in the NAACP lawsuit. If the State agrees to mediation.

        But having these people get involved in a mediation process is not enough. There hasn't been any commitment on their part to desegregate. As long as the School Board is promoting policies that harm our children, the protests must continue.


Repeal the Community School Plan!

          Whereas the Minneapolis Board of Education adopted on June 27, 1995 a community school plan (Eliminating The Gap) which establishes "community schools" for students from residential areas with high rates of poverty;

          And whereas students of color, including "middle class" students of color are over-represented in areas with high rates of poverty,

         And whereas this community school plan has in fact resulted in a resegregation of the Minneapolis Public Schools;
        And whereas this community school plan and subsequent resegregation has contributed to a further deterioration in the quality of education for most students in the Minneapolis Public Schools;

        And whereas this community school plan has in fact promoted an increased use of tracking through devices such as ability-grouping, gifted and talented programs, and magnet schools, which in fact has a detrimental effect on the quality of education available to the majority of students in the Minneapolis Public Schools;

         And whereas the first necessary step in reversing the accelerating decline in the quality of education in the Minneapolis Public Schools is correcting the error made in adopting the community school plan of June 1995 by rescinding it;

       Be it resolved that the Minneapolis Board of Education rescinds the Community School Plan of June 1995 in its entirety.


Nine Reasons to Introduce a Motion to Rescind the Community School Plan at the April 14 Minneapolis School Board Meeting

1. The Community school plan is a hyper- segregation plan. Segregation and tracking practices deny most students in the Minneapolis Public Schools access to facilities, curricula and academic programs needed to obtain an adequate education.

2. Segregation and tracking practices are a major concern for most parents and community members who participated in protests at the Minneapolis School Board meetings on February 24 and March 17.

3. Motivating the demand to rescind the Community School Plan is a better way to participate in School Board meetings than venting anger at school board members and carrying out disruptive tactics that will give the board an excuse to walk-out, turn off the T.V. monitors and call upon the police to make arrests and beat-up protesters.

4. The demand to rescind the Community School Plan is something that the School Board could comply with, and which would commit the School Board to do something. The School Board would have to consider school assignment plans that would promote a higher level of socio-economic and racial integration of the district's student population.

5. The demand to rescind the Community School Plan could be used to focus attention and the public debate on a key policy issue. We could use the School Board meetings as an educational forum.

6. Resolutions calling on the School Board to rescind the Community School Plan could be brought to many organizations. Prominent individuals and organizations unwilling to support protests and rallies on the basis of the "kick out the School Board" action plan may be willing to endorse a motion to rescind the Community School Plan, and endorse rallies and demonstrations which put it forward as the central demand.

7. A general slogan or statement such as "Education is a right, not a privilege" expresses a broad principle of unity that brings people together. But demands on the school Board should be specific enough to eliminate any wiggle room. All of the School board members can readily agree that most K-12 students in the Minneapolis Public Schools should get a better education. They can state their agreement with just about anything one could say about the rights of students to an adequate, even excellent education, but that doesn't commit them to do anything different than what they are doing now.

8. The demand to rescind the Community School Plan is properly directed at the School Board. On the other hand, one is not actually demanding a remedy from the School Board by calling upon the School Board to support mediation and the principles of a settlement of the NAACP lawsuit, such as metro-wide desegregation, and more funding for the Minneapolis Public Schools from the State.

9. The State will have no compelling reason to consider the adoption of a metro-wide desegregation plan that gives poor white children and children of color access to adequate educational facilities and curricula unless there is massive opposition to the community school plan in Minneapolis.