Mauri Friestleben was reinstated as the principal of North High School on Sunday, after having been put on leave from her position by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) on Friday, May 20 over a protocol violation in February.
“In early February, students across the state of Minnesota were planning and attending various forms of civil action in response to the shooting death of Amir Locke,” Friestleben wrote in a statement on Friday.
“MPS requires schools to follow protocols in times like that and I did not. Specifically, I encouraged our students to plan their own actions, I gave them examples of historical disobedience like sit-ins, and pledged to join them in their action.”
Friestleben attended a student walkout to City Hall on Feb. 9 in support of charges in the police shooting of Locke, which Friestleben said she was “strongly advised not to attend.”
MPS sent an automated call to North High families and released a statement Friday afternoon stating that Friestleben would be on leave and that Dr. Michael V. Walker would be acting as her replacement for the remainder of the school year.
Some community members took to social media to react to the news.
“This is such a horrible loss,” Rudbeckia Hirta wrote in a Facebook post. “It is shocking and so wrong to dismiss such an amazing principal for this.”
MPS School Board Director Sharon El-Amin made a Facebook post on Friday night clarifying that the decision to put Friestleben on leave was not made by the school board, but by Superintendent Ed Graff’s administration.
“I support Mauri,” El-Amin said in her post. “The insensitivity, lack of community awareness and another bad decision being made on the backs of our Children, Families, and community is disgusting.”
The district released a second statement on Saturday clarifying that Friestleben had not been terminated but was still on leave.
“If Principal Friestleben chooses to end her employment with MPS, her decision will be respected and her leadership will be missed,” the statement read.
Superintendent Graff sent a third statement to North High families Sunday afternoon to announce that Friestleben would remain as principal at North High through the end of the school year and apologized for the situation.
“We apologize for the difficulty this situation has caused the North community—and especially our Polar students,” Graff wrote in the statement. “Principal Friestleben will be welcoming students again at North on Monday.”
Victor Martinez, a former city council candidate who organized a Facebook group to push for Friestleben’s reinstatement, told the MSR that he did so because “Mauri is an amazing person. People like her don’t come along very often. She has given her heart to the Northside community. She is willing to take risks for us, and now we are willing to take risks for her.”
The activist group Minnesota Teen Activists had begun organizing a daily student walkout that was going to start Monday afternoon but canceled the idea when MPS announced Friestleben’s reinstatement.
“Students have canceled the walk-out and rally at the Davis Center to re-strategize our demands now for principal Mauri to be permanently reinstated for the remaining school year,” the group said in an Instagram post.
The Minneapolis NAACP held a press conference outside MPS’ district offices at the Davis Center on Monday morning, demanding an investigation into the administrators that made the decision to put Friestleben on leave and calling for transparency into MPS’ firing policies.
“What policies were followed in her termination in the first place?” asked Minneapolis NAACP president Cynthia Wilson. “And secondly, if what she did was so egregious to be terminated, how all of a sudden did you decide you were going to bring her back on a Sunday?”
“You left the Black community high and dry; you left North High students high and dry; you left the Black parents and parents of these students high and dry, and we need some answers to what happened,” Wilson added.
In a second statement made after her reinstatement Sunday morning, Friestleben said she was “overwhelmed with gratitude” that she would be finishing out the year.
“I am especially grateful to be back with my kids during these vulnerable times as relationship is what’s getting us through,” Friestleben said.
The district has not made a statement indicating whether Friestleben will continue as principal into the next school year.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.