In response to the rehiring of seven educators at the April 18th School Board Meeting, Minneapolis principals demanded an audience with the School Board to express their disapproval. These principals scolded the board for its “reactionary” vote. They spoke about how meticulous they are in their schools about firing staff, how they “lose sleep” over the process. They spoke of the danger of “accepting mediocrity,” or trying to “right the wrongs of racism by compromising your standards and expectations.”
Anyone familiar with the stories of the educators knows that this narrative is false. Firing a beloved Hmong social worker from Hmong International Academy for refusing to comply with an administrator’s unlawful request has nothing to do with “high standards.” Firing a Special Education Assistant after she spoke out against the illegal practice of denying hot lunch to students as punishment was not about “avoiding mediocrity.” Pushing out a teacher with nothing but positive performance reviews in her two years at the school for “performance” after she spoke up in disagreement with the principal at a staff meeting has nothing to do with teaching at all. Hundreds of community members, MPS staff, and students showed up for these educators at the board meeting precisely because they were forced out for reasons other than the quality of their work.
These principals’ reaction to a massive community protest after the push-out of seven educators of color was not to self-reflect, or to even actually listen to the testimony of these educators, but instead to immediately fabricate a narrative of poor job performance and lowering standards. It’s a familiar pattern in the district: when you complain about racism or bad management, suddenly you’re bad at your job.
It’s clear this isn’t about maintaining high standards. This is about power. The fact that the board, in response to educators and their communities, overturned the decisions of principals in our district is a threat to their power. Their reaction inadvertently reveals what happens all too often across the district when a principal is threatened: they attack the job performance of whoever challenges them. None of the principals who spoke worked at the schools in question, and some admitted afterwards they had not seen “all of” the educators’ testimony, yet they felt comfortable identifying “high standards” as the reason behind the firings, rather than institutional racism and a system designed to push out those who speak out.
We do need to have a conversation about standards in Minneapolis Public Schools. To what standards are we holding principals when it comes to supporting the staff of color we so desperately need in our schools? How can educators and students of color bring their culture into the classroom when our standards hold white cultural norms as “correct” behavior? How can we stop the standard of professionalism from being used to force complacency and silence? These conversations can’t happen when our jobs as educators are at stake every time we speak out.