School board candidates differ over cops in schools

That and other racial justice issues raised at candidate forum

msp-board

The Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education elections will take place on November 8, less than one week away. The school board has nine elected members and a student representative. Six board members are elected by their districts and the other three are citywide. All serve up to four years. Of these, three district seats and one at-large seat are up for grabs this year.

In an effort to determine which of the candidates would be best suited to serve as a school board member, a debate was held on Wednesday, October 26 at 6 pm at New Creation Church in North Minneapolis. The topic was creating a school climate to promote racial justice. Concerned parents and educators in the school system were allowed to ask question of the candidates.

The forum was hosted by nonprofit groups ISIAH, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), and the nonprofit Minneapolis Rising that work on issues of social equality and economic justice. Amber Jones, education organizer for NOC, served as the forum’s moderator.

For the citywide or at-large position, incumbent Kim Ellison is running against candidate Doug Mann, who was unable to attend the forum. Candidates for the race for the open District 2 seat are Kimberly Caprini and Kerry Jo Felder. In District 4, incumbent Josh Reimnitz is running against challenger Bob Walser. And in her bid for re-election in District 6, incumbent Tracine Asberry faces challenger Ira Jourdain.

“We are certainly glad to be hosting this event for our community, but more specifically for our children, “said president of ISIAH Pastor Paul T. Slack of New Creation. “We work for real opportunities, particularly for communities of color and other communities that have been cut out of opportunities.

“All of us see in the state of Minnesota that we have not come to terms with our history of racism, that we still view our Black men through our fear-based lens,” continued Slack. “This is reflected in how we allocate wealth and how we view criminal justice.”

Among the candidates are educators in the school system, business owners, and parents of children in the Minneapolis Public School System. Candidates were asked a series of questions regarding their views on special education, school resource officers (SROs), and viewing students as individuals instead of numbers.

A parent at the forum, Shonda Allen, shared the story of her eighth-grade daughter attending Venture academy. “We have dealt with many phone calls going through two districts and three schools,” said Allen. “I was given the 504 plan, an IEP [Individual Education Plan], because they said she [her daughter] had bad behavior. She was bullied.

“My question is, due to physical, cultural and emotional barriers in Minneapolis, in addition to high turnovers, do you believe we should change our approach to providing stable support centers for Minneapolis Public Schools, and how?”

Felder stated that she is in support of a full-service community school model and said that more resources are needed. “When you have IEPs and 504 plans, those are hard, and we don’t have enough counselors to provide that individual attention,” she said.

Asberry spoke directly to Allen, apologizing on behalf of the district. “As a former teacher at W. Harry Davis, I apologize. Your daughter reached out to us and we didn’t reach back,” she said. “We need to make sure she has the best education and [can be] proud of being a Black girl.”

Bob Walser stated, “It paints a very ugly picture of the Minneapolis Public Schools and provides an opportunity to see how our resources are allocated, and to re-direct resources.”

Ira Jourdain stated that he has two children on IEP in grades four and six. “It’s culturally intimidating, sitting there in front of people who don’t look like me, telling me what’s wrong with my child,” said Jourdain, who is Native American. “They told me, ‘Your daughter has a lot of pent-up energy.’ I told them maybe she should have 30 minutes of recess instead of only 10.”

Kimberly Caprini stated she was not good at reading or math and was even discouraged from her teachers to continue her education. This pushed her to further assist her own kids in core subjects outside of school.

Malcolm Wells, a special education teacher, asked a question regarding school police officers: “The school-to-prison pipeline is real in Minneapolis Public Schools,” said Wells. He described an incident when a student asked a cop why he had a gun. The cop replied, “Don’t worry about it.”

“You could feel the energy and space getting thicker,” said Wells full of emotion. “These are the same police officers that harass them on their way home, handcuff them, and are in their schools. Will you support SROs, or sharing a safe school climate?”

Bob Walser said he didn’t necessarily support the use of SROs and said with the increased policing he feels less secure in his own neighborhood. “It’s not a good idea,” he said. “However, I would respect the voice of the community if it felt like it was a good idea.” He said he would need more comprehensive evidence before making a decision.

Josh Remnitz recently voted to renew the SROs contract for another year. “I think the initial intent is to help mend those relationships [between police and students], but I don’t think that’s how it’s been manifested. I’m working with students and community members to shift policy on the issue. I had a different viewpoint on the issue once I [went to Atlanta] and seen it firsthand for myself.”

“That is a very hard one,” said Ira Jourdain. “I think if there are SROs, their needs to be a cultural component for our students. At some point there is a misconception with cultural differences. The way they treat our kids in the juvenile detention facility, we should not have that aspect in our schools.

“How many of you been there? Jourdain continued. “I have. However, my son told me about riots at his school and said if it weren’t for the SROs it would have been a lot worse, as the racial tension would have increased.”

Tracie Asberry is not in support of school officers: “This idea creates an unsafe space. Our children are telling us they don’t feel safe.”

Kim Ellison said she supports SROs because it may actually help to mend relationships: “I want to change the image our students have of police officers. The only other alternative is to call 911. That’s no alternative.”

“When I’m in North Minneapolis, I am not afraid of the police,” said Caprini. “But soon as I leave North Minneapolis, there is a sense of fear.” She described a situation where police followed her as she drove. “It takes moments like that to realize how a student at Harrison would feel in that situation.

“However, if the school sees the need for an SRO, who am I to tell them no?” Caprini continued. “It’s about what the parents want for their children.”

Kerry Jo Felder is not in support of SROs. “I spent 15 days and four nights at Fourth Precinct [during last year’s protest]. It’s scary to be picked out right there at school.

“The hall monitors were members of the community and could call my dad if I acted up,” Felder said. “That’s more fearful to me than a police officer. If we are gonna have one, it should be someone from the neighborhood who knows the students. Otherwise, I do not support it.”

After the debate, Harun Abukar, a 17-year-old student and organizer, read the audience a poem about the injustices he and others felt: “The history you teach us, it’s not ours, it’s yours. Fixing a system of oppression would be a miracle. We need better results, and you need to start listening to us.”

 

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader comment to iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com.