Buses preserved at Lyndale after parent push

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools will preserve two bus routes to Lyndale Community School for another school year after parents protested their planned removal.

Superintendent Ed Graff announced the decision to keep the buses in late December, a couple weeks after parents spoke out at the December School Board meeting. He stressed in an email that the change is for 2018–2019 only and will be re-evaluated during the comprehensive assessment of all MPS programs and services that is currently underway.

The planned changes were part of a transition to a more community-based model of schooling, according to a district spokesman. The two buses transport students from the Jefferson Community School zone who are Somali speakers receiving English-language support. The district has been phasing out transportation to out-of-attendance-zone schools in recent years, since it has added English-language support in all of its schools.

Lyndale is a pre-K–5 community school in its namesake neighborhood with about 489 K–5 students. Parents say they appreciate the school’s strong programming, stable and friendly staff and diverse student-body makeup. They note offerings such as band, orchestra and Arabic and say the school presents opportunities for students of different backgrounds to get to know one another.

“All the parents and all the staff, we’re always watching each other’s back,” said Farhiya Del, a second-grade teacher and parent at the school. “… We support each other from top to bottom.”

Lyndale students leave school on a recent afternoon.
Lyndale students leave school on a recent afternoon.

A long tradition

Lyndale has been providing services to Somali students for about 25 years, Del said, adding that Somali families have a long tradition of attending the school. At the December School Board meeting, she said the school is held with such esteem that is has a reputation in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu.

For years, the school had a student population that was nearly 90 percent students of color, as families in Lyndale — which is about 48 percent white, according to recent Census estimates — and nearby neighborhoods enrolled at other schools in Southwest Minneapolis. But a 2009 enrollment plan designed to encourage more district families to attend community schools coincided with an increase in the enrollment of white students at Lyndale.

The district ended Lyndale’s citywide Somali EL program in 2010, according to site council member and longtime parent David Weingartner, but it allowed Somali EL students from the Jefferson and Green Central zones to continue to enroll there. It began phasing out the exemptions a few years ago as it started providing language support in all schools, according to district Chief Operations Officer Karen DeVet.

The policy contributed to a 77-student decline in enrollment at Lyndale from the 2015–2016 school year to 2016–2017. Alarmed by the school’s dip in students, Lyndale’s site council requested a boundary change last March.

“Without structural change this year’s $850,000 budget cut will just be the beginning,” site council members wrote to the School Board. “With low Kindergarten enrollment it is hard to see how we will be able to sustain 4 Kindergarten classes.”

The boundary change never happened, and this fall the district informed parents that it would end the final two buses from the Jefferson zone after this school year. Lyndale parents decided to protest, holding a meeting about the changes and speaking out at the School Board meeting.

“Somali families who have lost buses are making difficult decisions about jobs and enduring hardships in order to drive kids to school because they love Lyndale,” Del told the School Board. She added that she thinks families would leave MPS for charter schools because of the cut in busing.

Lyndale students get on their school buses on a recent afternoon.
Lyndale students get on their school buses on a recent afternoon.

A ‘healthy identity’

Heather Anderson, a white parent of two black children at Lyndale, said her family moved to the Minneapolis district a year-and-a-half ago because they were looking for diversity and racial mirrors in a school. In an interview, she said she’s seen her kids become more confident since they enrolled in Lyndale, adding that she thinks diversity changes the experience for everyone.

Anderson noted how Lyndale’s younger grades have a growing proportion of white students, expressing concern about the school losing its diversity. She said the school could expect to lose more staff if its enrollment drops again, and that would impact the culture at the school.

Anderson said parents are hoping to increase Lyndale’s enrollment while supporting the district as it makes decisions on structural changes. She noted an open house on Jan. 25 at the school for prospective parents, set for 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.

Parents also want to make sure they are advocating for students of color, Anderson added.

“Our kids need racial mirrors for healthy identity,” she said. “If you don’t see that, how do you set a dream?”