Faith-based leaders, parents demand more from MPS

Extension of suspension ban first of many steps

ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack with press conference participants.
ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack with press conference participants.

ISAIAH, a nonprofit faith-based coalition in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and greater Minnesota, held a press conference last week outside the district headquarters on West Broadway in North Minneapolis.

Although they support MPS Interim Superintendent Michael Goar’s decision earlier this month to keep in place the moratorium for nonviolent suspensions for grades pre-K through grade five, they also want him, the Minneapolis school board, and elected officials to do more, including extending the moratorium to all grade levels throughout Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).

The current moratorium “is a major step” but still more is needed, said the group of local faith and community leaders. School suspensions essentially are “a criminalization” of Black students and other students of color, stated ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack during the October 13 press conference with media, including the MSR.

“Stop arresting our children,” he stressed. “We support [Goar] in this bold decision and his bold leadership,” but “it’s not enough just to talk. It is time to invest and put some resources around our students and keep them in a learning environment so they can have the productive lives God intends for them to have.

“We understand that this is a process,” continued the ISAIAH president. “But we also need to see something. We need to see that courageous leadership. We believe there are many more steps to follow.”

Along with Slack, parent Michelle Deziel, former Washburn High School principal Carol Markham-Cousins, and Rev. Laurie Eaton of Our Saviors’ Lutheran Church of Minneapolis spoke to the media as well. Along with the suspension ban in the lower grades, Deziel wants MPS to seek the reported $2 million paid for a “racist” reading series from Reading Horizons, as well as sever its relationship with the company.

Deziel later told the MSR, “It makes me very upset [about] how this happened. It’s so disrespectful to the children and the families of this community.”

“We are looking at all suspensions,” said Markham-Cousins, who added that a “positive school-wide engagement plan” is needed in all MPS schools. “We need transparency,” she stated. “We want to go to each school and see it happening.”

Markham-Cousins later told the MSR, “We [as teachers and school leaders] don’t mean to put children in the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s criminalizing student behavior. Sometimes we push kids… I’ve done that.”

“All of our children should have a chance to thrive,” added Rev Eaton.

Suspensions too often affect a student’s life after school, as in getting a job, said Slack. “Too many Black, Brown and Native students are ending up in the criminal justice system.”

“I’m very, very encouraged” by Goar’s decision, said ISAIAH board member Joy Marsh Stephens. “When kids are out of school, they can’t learn,” she pointed out, and this can lead to negative behavior. “How do we come together as a district and a community finding solutions to keep kids [in school]?

“The school district absolutely should be accountable to the community, the taxpayers, the parents, to the churches and other organizations who have kids in the district,” said Stephens. “The schools should be reaching out to us. It says a lot that Interim Superintendent Goar has been engaged with ISAIAH. We are at the beginning of a conversation…with Goar and the rest of the board.”

Goar spoke briefly at the conference and said that he appreciated ISAIAH’s support, and reiterated the district’s goal of keeping all students in their classrooms as “part of our academic agenda. We are eager to work with our community partners,” he stated.

After his remarks, the interim superintendent told the MSR that MPS also has been meeting “and working extensively” with Minnesota Equity Partnership as well as ISAIAH. “We always welcome all community partners,” said Goar. “[It’s] more than just a verbal commitment as part of our solution in making sure our kids are actively engaged in our schools.”

Rev. Slack, asked if he is worried whether the new superintendent, once hired, will continue the ban, said, “We have relationships with others inside the school district. So whoever ends up being the permanent superintendent…we are doing the work to ensure that we have a continued relationship.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.