Minneapolis Public School staff on strike for second week

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Khayaal Desai-Hunt

Union members have gathered and marched around South holding handmade signs as a part of the ongoing strike. Sheila Willette, the South MFT media relations specialist and teacher said, “I think what we are doing is right, I think it’s overdue. I don’t think it’s comfortable, but I think it is absolutely necessary.”

By Khayaal Desai-Hunt, Minneapolis South High School

Minneapolis Public School Teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESP) have been on strike since Tuesday, March 8th. Negotiations between the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) district and the union (MFT59), have been ongoing and will continue throughout the weekend. During the time of the strike all MPS schools are closed and students remain at home. In addition, students cannot contact teachers who are striking, although South administration has provided a list of resources in case students need assistance. The school is still giving out meals for pickup and the South partner 826 MSP, who host the Writers’ Room, have also provided a safe space with snacks and internet at their headquarters. 

Whether or not someone supports the strike, no one can deny that being on site of the strike is electrifying. “It’s fun [to be out here]. Doing this thing where we’re all together and marching and chanting, you do feel a sense of connection and unity,” said Fred Chang, the College Credit Programming Coordinator at South. “The idea is that when teachers have a better working situation, the schools are better for the students. So I appreciate that when we talk about this we always talk about the students first because that is really what it is about,” he adds.

MFT is bargaining for a number of things, but perhaps the most notable is an increase in starting annual salary for Education Support Professionals, from $24,000 to $35,000 which is what the union considers a living wage. Brian Just, a Special Education Assistant at South, says he is working 3 jobs right now. “That makes for a pretty stressful week on end for me, so I am hoping something will change and help me reduce that a little bit…There are people out there that want to help [students] but it just doesn’t pay enough to encourage them to be here.” Other requests by the union include better mental health support for students, a cap on the number of students in a class, and more support for recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

A car is painted with the words “There is power in the union.” This is the first Minneapolis teachers strike in over 50 years. (Khayaal Desai-Hunt)

Some critics of the strike say that the district does not have the funds to support these changes as the budget is mainly based on enrollment, which has been decreasing in recent years. Current MFT South media relations specialist and Spanish teacher, Sheila Willette, said, “It’s not a question of whether we can afford it, but whether we can’t afford it? We have to prioritize our future and we need to invest in [students]. This generation of students in MPS has never been faced with what they’ve been faced with in the last two years. And prior to that, the status quo wasn’t serving them terribly effectively anyway. We can’t afford not to act on this.”

Jenny Herbenson, a math teacher at South, reflects on the community reaction to the strike. “From what I’ve been hearing I think the community is very supportive. Most parents I think are very supportive of this, I think they know that we are doing this for a good reason and will hopefully get some good things out of it.”

Willette explains her opinion of the situation, “I think what we are doing is right, I think it’s overdue. I don’t think it’s comfortable, but I think it is absolutely necessary. Our working conditions reflect our students’ learning conditions. It bears saying again, we are striking for our students and their right to a world-class education. We should settle for nothing less.”

This story was originally published on South High School on March 15, 2022.