Decentering white parents

After reading the letter titled “Don’t back pat. Listen.” in the Oct. 1 issue, it is clear that the writer missed the main argument from the “Nice White Parents” podcast, namely that white parents are the driving force in perpetuating racial and economic inequality in public schools and educational justice will not be realized until we start limiting the power of white parents. The Minneapolis Public Schools’ (MPS) process of passing the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) is one of the rare examples in public education systems-change in which white parents’ demands were not only decentered but in some cases overtly rejected.

Opponents of the CDD have expressed anger about the specifics of the CDD but even more outrage over the “process.” They claim the process was unfair and accuse the multi-racial district leadership team and School Board of incompetence. They spread falsehoods about the Advancing Equity Coalition (AEC), a racially and culturally diverse group of nonprofits, many of which are led by Black, Indigenous and people of color who spent two years engaging in organizing and advocacy work focused on holding MPS accountable for centering racial, economic and geographic justice in the CDD.

The letter seems to be referencing AEC when it makes a common claim put forth by CDD opponents that “the CDD was pushed forward by nice white people … who spent three years working behind the scenes to influence a plan.” This statement makes the mistaken assumption that in a multi-racial, multicultural coalition like the AEC, it must be the white people who are pulling the strings.

Despite Southwest Minneapolis CDD opponents’ political connections, financial resources, professional looking websites, organized protests outside the district office, threats to unenroll their children from MPS and promises to unseat any board member who voted for the CDD, they were not successful in dictating the outcome of the CDD vote. Despite the long history of white parents in Southwest Minneapolis calling the shots at MPS, the CDD still passed.

I do not love all aspects of the CDD. I do not know if the CDD will accomplish what it is setting out to do, namely to ensure that “our large, urban school district will deliver on its commitment to ensuring that all students — regardless of their background, zip code, and personal needs — receive a high quality, well-rounded education that prepares them for future success.” I am deeply worried that, as usually happens in large urban school districts, big ideas and structural changes fall apart in the implementation stage. That being said, I am also aware that our current structure is both financially unsustainable and deeply inequitable, and thus calls to delay action cannot be heeded. I am incredibly grateful for Board Chair Kim Ellison’s willingness to take the significant political risk of acting against the wishes of powerful Southwest Minneapolis parents in order to address the needs and challenges of the entire district. At the end of the last episode of “Nice White Parents,” the host, Chana Joffe-Walt, states that white parents like myself “can choose to remember the goal of public schools is not to cater only to us, to keep us happy, but to serve every child.” I hope that all nice white parents in Minneapolis, whether you initially supported the CDD or not, do not lose sight of this truth.

Erin Sugrue Ericsson

Erin Sugrue is a member of the Minneapolis chapter of the organization Integrated Schools.