Latino parents from Burroughs Elementary School met with Minneapolis school board members on Thursday to petition that the school board reinstate Burrough’s Native Language Learners (NLL) program, re-establish the former limits of bus transportation, and have better communication between the school board and community. School board members Pam Costain, Lydia Lee, Carla Bates, and Tom Madden attended the meeting, as well as Minnesota State Senators Patricia Torres Ray and Linda Berglund. Bilingual volunteers helped translate the meeting.
At issue is the NLL program, which is being phased out at Burroughs (last year there was no NLL Kindergarten program, and this year there will be no Kindergarten or first grade NLL). A new program to bring in other children of diverse backgrounds was being considered for Burroughs. Many of the parents expressed feelings of anger and frustration that these decisions were made without consulting their community.
Magaly Ferreira, a parent of two children at Burroughs, emphasized that the group at the meeting was brought together by the Latino families of Burroughs, and was not organized or advised by the teachers from the school. Ferreira said that two years ago, she received a notice that her children were outside the boundaries of bussing transportation, and that last year, she found out that the NLL program would be phased out because there weren’t enough children in the program.
“This year,” she said, “We hear rumors that they are bringing other children, which is disconcerting. Now they are bringing kids from farther away.” Ferreira continued said that the the school and school board were not treating Latino families with due respect.
Many of the parents expressed the reasons they felt a specific connection with Burroughs. They said they liked the school and liked the academic excellence. Some parents said they don’t want to send their children to Anderson or Green Central because they have heard of gang activity and drugs at those schools.
“I have a lot of emotion,” said Shannon Castillo, another parent. “I feel very angry. I feel discriminated against.”
Senator Patricia Torres Ray spoke at the meeting and said “I don’t believe the problems are so big that there won’t be a solution.” She said it was a shame that the Latino families were not consulted about the decision to end the NLL program, but she said “I don’t think it’s too late- I never think it’s too late.” She urged the families and the school board members to continue to dialogue.
School board member Pam Costain said that the issue was that the classes are overcrowded. “More people want to go to Burroughs than there is space,” she said. “The particular situation at Burroughs is part of a larger problem,” she said, and the school board would be making decisions for the whole district. Costain also said the school board will have a recommendation by the end of August to submit to the Board of Education. “We are listening very carefully to your concerns,” she said, but could not commit to any decision.
The other school board members also said they understood the parents’ concern, but they could not commit to reinstating the NLL program at this time.
Kip Wennerlund, co-chair of the advisory board at Burroughs, proposed reducing the size of the Burroughs district by sending students in the eastern part of the district area to Lyndale, Ramsey, or Barton, which would open enough space to save the NLL program “and start a new diversity initiative.” He said that everybody at Burroughs wants to save the NLL program. “We want to maintain the community that we’ve built together.”
Ferreira said at the end of the meeting that if the families didn’t hear an answer soon about reinstating the NLL program, the families will hold an open house with charter and private schools. “We will leave the school district,” she said. She asked to have another meeting with the school board in two weeks.
Tom Madden said that a meeting in 2 weeks would be impossible, but he agreed that the school board might be able to meet with the community in late July or August. He also suggested that the parents attend the next school board meeting on July 14.