The principal at a Minneapolis elementary school is absent from work today (Monday) after a reportedly heated exchange with a school board member last week. Burroughs Elementary Principal Tim Cadotte was not in his office today. On Friday, Cadotte had an altercation in the school with School Board Member Chris Stewart. The exchange occurred as Stewart made an unannounced visit to the school as part a the school board’s contentious process to change how families are able to choose schools. KFAI’s Art Hughes reports.
Advocates for Burroughs school contend Board Member Chris Stewart used the word “racist” to describe the school’s preferred student population alternative as the district considers new alternatives. Kip Wennerlund is co-chair of a the Burroughs Site Council, an official body at the school consisting of teachers, parents and administrators. He did not personally witness the exchange between Stewart and Principal Cadotte, but spoke to others who did.
“He came to the building making claims that the site council statement is racist, just looking at it it’s prima facia evidence of racism, that Burroughs is a racist school and our Principal Tim Cadotte is a racist,” Winnerlund said.
Stewart confirms he was at Burroughs last Friday, but sidestepped the question of whether he discussed the school’s proposal in those terms.
Reporter Question: “at no time you didn’t mention to any of the administration there or the staff members there that you thought the way the school was going about it was racist?”
“I don’t want to talk about my site visit at Lyndale and Burroughs specific to what we were crunching while I was there, but will every site visit you take a look at the school, you take a look at the kids, you take a look at the facilities and you try to come up with a general perception….” Stewart answered.
Stewart twice deflected the question about whether he called the plan ‘racist’, instead Burroughs is among the district’s top performing schools.
Stewart: I wouldn’t want to go down a talk path that would take away from that–in public–because that’s really at the bottom of everything. My site visits have confirmed to me in most of the schools that I’m seeing that we schools that people just aren’t aware are as good as they are.
Minneapolis School district officials did not respond to requests for comment, even to confirm whether principal Cadotte is on administrative leave.
The controversy comes as the school district is making lasting decisions about school boundaries and how families choose which schools to attend. The decision is partly based on diversifying schools that have become more segregated as residents were able to pick schools nearest their homes. Burroughs draws from a mostly white residential population, but had developed a program called Native Language Literacy to attract Latinos from across the city. The district cut the program last year for budget reasons. The school’s site council recommended bringing it back as a way to reinvigorate a more diverse student body. Some district administrators criticized the plan as choosing Latinos over blacks and other minority groups.
Board member Stewart says he’s a supporter of the NLL program, but refused to categorize it as favoring one race over another.
“It has brought a bit of diversity that’s been hard to integrate schools because of residential housing patterns you have to do something like that almost to diversify schools,” he said.
The school district is set to notify Minneapolis schools of proposed changes as early as the end of the week.