School Board’s comment-picking process criticized

The Minneapolis Board of Education has drawn criticism from a group of parents over which public comments the board chose to air at its virtual mid-April meeting.

About half the comments aired at the meeting were in support of the district’s proposed Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan, even though only around 30% of all comments the district received supported the plan.

The CDD is the district’s effort to create more integration, reduce busing costs and balance out programming and resources between different parts of the city. Many parents, particularly those at affected South Minneapolis magnet schools, have been vocally against the plan.

The board defended its choice of which comments to air, with chair Kim Ellison saying they were able to hear an unprecedented number of public comments during the meeting.

The board had asked families to leave voicemail comments during a four-day period in the week before the meeting.

A group of parents, called Kids First Minneapolis, takes issue primarily with the board’s communication of the public-comment protocol, which it says skewed the feedback to appear more favorable to the CDD.

The board initially publicized the protocol on April 7 — in a letter on the district website and in emails to people who’d previously signed up to speak at the meeting. Two days later, it emailed and sent a robocall to all district families about the comment process.

According to Kids First, which received timestamped data on the voicemails from the district, the comments submitted before the April 9 emails and robocalls were markedly more supportive of the CDD than those submitted after all district families were notified. The group has created a website and hired media relations professionals to help with a campaign to delay the CDD vote.

Kids First also criticized the board for reneging on its pledge to play the first three hours of voicemails it received at the meeting, as it promised in its April 7 letter.

The board played at least 140 minutes’ worth of voicemails from the first three hours of tape, but it also played about 40 minutes of comments from students and from groups the district has “historically underserved.” That included parents of all races from North Minneapolis and Northeast Minneapolis, parents who speak Spanish, parents who have students with disabilities and parents with students at schools not often represented at board meetings. The board attempted to post the rest of the voicemails online.

Amy Gustafson, a parent at Windom Spanish-Dual Immersion School, which would lose its dual-immersion program under the CDD, said she thinks there was good intent behind the decision to play voicemails from underserved groups. But she said the board should have told the public about the change to the protocol.

The School Board public comment period allows members of the public to air grievances, offer praise and provide feedback to actions taken and proposed by the district.

Over 150 parents, students and community members provided opinions about the plan during public comments at in-person School Board meetings in January, February and March. The core CDD components haven’t changed since then, though boundaries and programming for many schools have — in some cases significantly.

Those changes merit more time for feedback, Gustafson said.

The CDD is slated for a May 12 vote.

May 1 update: A two-day public-comment window for the May 12 meeting will open at noon on May 5. Community members may provide comments via voicemail or an online submission form. An email has been sent to all MPS families informing them of the protocol, board administrator Ryan Strack said. Visit https://board.mpls.k12.mn.us/public_comment to learn more.