Ordered out, invited in

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I’ve attended a number of meetings at schools, but I’ve only been told to leave one. That was the May 2 site council meeting for Green Central Park school, when I was told to leave by Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle. 

I’d been invited to attend the meeting by Sadonia Myers, an African American parent who was not part of the group demanding that Principal Catalina Salas be ousted. I was taking a couple of photos when Battle pulled me aside and asked me if I had gotten permission from Stan Alleyne, the district’s communications director, to attend the meeting. She told me that it was not a public meeting. Reluctantly, I left.

A few weeks later, Mayela de la Rosa Cardenas, a Latina mother at Green Central texted me on Wednesday, May 15 with an invitation to another meeting. She and a group of parents were meeting with MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson that afternoon at 4 o’clock, at Cardenas’ home, and would I please come? Of course I would.

So, with my head full of questions, I went over to Cardenas’s home, where I had been twice before. The family recognized me from my previous visits, and offered me one of the many Sprites on the table, next to a whole spread of food from La Loma. The food, she explained, was sent to her home from the school district. I spoke with Cardenas and a man named Eduardo Clara Zaragoza, and asked Cardenas what she hoped for the meeting.

“I want them to bring Catalina back,” she said, referring to Green Central principal Catalina Salas, who was placed on leave of absence after a tumultuous few months. Cardenas is part of a large group of Latino parents who defended Salas and the Developmental Dual Language (DDL) program from attacks led by African American parent Maryann Robinson.

I chatted with the family for nearly an hour before Superintendent Johnson arrived with Community Engagement coordinator Ruben Vasquez. Johnson was self-deprecating about her lack of Spanish skills, and Cardenas, Zaragoza, Vasquez, Johnson and myself exchanged pleasantries, through Vasquez’s translations. After a few awkward pauses, Vasquez suggested we have some food, and finally four other Latino mothers arrived.

The parents began by saying many of the things they’ve been saying at the past meetings at Green Central. They insisted that Salas’s removal was due to racism. Johnson said that was not the case.

The parents weren’t backing down, and it got pretty tense, and that’s when Johnson stood up, and went over to one of the mothers, who was holding a child. Johnson asked if she could hold the baby. Suddenly the mood lightened.

The discussion continued, with both Johnson and the parents standing their ground, but seeming more able to hear one another.

I have to say, I was pretty impressed by Johnson’s skill at reaching out to these parents. She said her reasoning for coming to them, rather than meeting them at the school, was so that it was on a more neutral ground. Indeed, at a previous meeting, Cardenas had said that some of the parents refused to come to school meetings because they were so frustrated with how they had been treated. Johnson came, brought food (so much food that all of the parents took some home with them), and really put on the charm with them, highlighting their shared interest of finding what is best for their kids. She was firm, and defended herself, but always in a way that was rather humble.

Now, I don’t think this meeting was the end of the conflict, but I do think it was a first step toward resolution. Parents want to be heard, and when they feel like their opinions don’t matter, they either raise a ruckus or stop being involved altogether. I wonder if more engagement happened on different communities’ “turf,” more of an actual dialogue could happen. 

Related stories:

• Minneapolis school superintendent Bernadeia Johnson meets Latino parents from Green Central Park school
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• Latino parents at Green Central upset, fearful over changes in the school
• Another principal on leave in Minneapolis: New focus of racial tensions at Green Central Park school
• OPINION | Green Central enters new school year amid controversy
• Minneapolis schools respond to Latino parents’ demand for improvement