Minneapolis Students Return to School Amid Discussion of Extended School Year


Chad Davis

Photo taken by Chad Davis

Josh Klopp, Editor

Over 29,000 students returned to class on Tuesday, March 29 after a strike that closed Minneapolis schools for three weeks. Education support professionals (ESPs) of Minneapolis went on strike in an attempt to improve conditions for themselves and their students. On Friday, March 25, a tentative agreement was struck between ESPs and Minneapolis Public Schools to increase pay, cap class sizes, enhance mental health support, and more. This is good news for teachers, students, and parents alike. However, missing three weeks of school does not come without consequences.

After an agreement was reached between the schools and the teachers union, teachers took two days to vote in order to ratify the contract. There was overwhelming support of the new contract, with over 75 percent of teachers and ESPs who voted in agreement. This shifted the focus to the Minneapolis School Board and their decision over whether to extend the school year. The pressure to extend the school year comes from the state’s minimum required instructional days and hours. According to the school board’s lawyer, there are criminal and financial penalties for failing to reach these requirements. This makes the board’s motivations clear, but many parents and students were passionate that the school year should not be extended. On the evening of March 29, the school board met to vote on the proposed schedule for the end of the rest of the year. To make up for the lost days, it was proposed that the school year would be extended to June 24 and school days would be 42 minutes longer starting on April 11. Those who were in opposition made their voices heard. A group of students interrupted the meeting to bring attention to issues with the plan. The students entered the room with megaphones and chanted for several minutes. The uproar they caused led to the superintendent, Ed Graff, and several board members to walk out of the meeting. The issues raised by the chanting students, along with other parents and students at the meeting, were that public feedback was not taken into consideration and an extension would interrupt internships and other summer plans outside of school. Despite the defiance, the board voted 5-2 to put the extension of the school year into place.

From the teacher’s and ESP’s perspective, the strike worked as planned. In terms of wages, there were increases in several ways. The starting pay increased from less than $20 per hour to $24 per hour. This raises annual pay from around $24,000 to almost $35,000 per year. The new contract also includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise for this year and a 3 percent raise for next year. Also, a $4,000 one-time bonus was added in addition to salary increases. Although these raises are larger than any that have teachers of Minneapolis have received in recent times, the increases do not keep up with inflation and do not compare well to those of surrounding cities. Nonetheless, this is a step in the right direction for teachers who are looking to be paid more for their hard work.

There were more big wins for teachers than just the financial ones. The contract includes provisions that impose a cap on class sizes. This comes with special focus on keeping class sizes smaller for schools that have higher proportions of students on free or reduced-price lunches. Improvements in mental health support were also a large part of the agreement. The Minnesota Federation of Teachers said the new deal means there will be a social worker placed in every school in the city. There are also guarantees for school nurses, psychologists, and counselors. Another focus of the negotiations was protecting BIPOC staff members. The deal will include layoff protections for these staff that would exempt them from layoffs that were usually seniority based.

It is hard to say whether students will be happy to return to school after a three week break, but it is easier to assume that few will be excited for extended school days and an extended school year. With that being said, there is new hope that the postive outcome for teachers will get the ball rolling for improving school conditions in Minneapolis and beyond.