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Teachers march on Governor’s residence, urging ‘Governor Walz, keep us safe!’

July 29, 2020

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

SAINT PAUL — With Governor Tim Walz about to announce a decision on whether Minnesota schools will re-open, teachers marched on the Governor’s residence July 24 and expressed their opposition to a return to in-person classes with a simple chant: “Governor Walz, keep us safe!”

President Donald Trump has been encouraging schools nationwide to re-open with in-person classes this fall.

Walz, meanwhile, is expected to announce his decision for Minnesota schools at a news conference tomorrow, Thursday, July 30 at 2:00 p.m.

In advance of Walz’s decision, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and the St. Paul Federation of Educators — who together represent more than 8,000 educators — organized a rally last Friday and a march to the Governor’s residence to make their concerns known.

On an afternoon with high humidity and temperatures in the 90s, about 300 teachers and supporters marched from J.J. Hill Montessori school on Selby Ave. to the Governor’s residence a few blocks away on Summit Ave. Other teachers and supporters joined a car caravan which followed a different route and drove by the Governor’s home, horns honking and vehicles adorned with signs.

Banners

Led by banners from the St. Paul Federation of Educators and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the march headed to the Governor’s residence.


Chauntyll Allen, St. Paul schools board member addresses the crowd

Chauntyll Allen, St. Paul Public Schools board member (lower left), spoke to the crowd outside the Governor’s residence.


“We don’t want to teach over Zoom,” said MFT president Greta Callahan, a kindergarten teacher, addressing the crowd at J.J. Hill Montessori. “We can’t wait to be back to in-person learning. But our students’ lives are too important to be sacrificed so the economy can re-open.”

Callahan noted that the COVID-19 virus is disproportionately afflicting communities of color and that students of color make up a majority of the student population in the Minneapolis of St. Paul public schools. “Our students of color matter and their lives are not expendable. Period.”

The Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers unions, together with Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota, have issued a 10-point list of demands addressing COVID-19 safety concerns as well as broader issues concerning school funding and equity issues. The teachers say these demands must be met before schools can re-open — and more than 10,000 people have signed an online petition in support.

“Masking up is not enough. Safety precautions are not enough,” Callahan told the crowd. “Why on earth would we go back and risk our lives for the way things were?”

“My students are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity and are crammed into a classroom with 30 or 40 kids,” Callahan said. “Why on earth would we go back and risk our lives for a system that has devalued and defunded public education for three decades?”
Greta Callahan, president Minneapolis Federation of Teachers

Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, spoke at a rally kicking-off the July 24 teachers march to the Governor’s mansion: “Why would we go back and risk our lives for a system that has demonized educators?”

The crowd also heard from students, school parents, and school board members and other supporters who addressed the group at J.J. Hill Montessori and outside the Governor’s residence.

“I don’t want our state to become another Florida… They opened their state too early,” said Jania Kloeppel, a former Minneapolis Public Schools student. “If it’s not safe to watch a movie in a theatre, then I don’t think we should go back to school.”

Instead of excitement for the coming school year, students, their families and school staff are experiencing “worry, fear, and anger,” said Kim Caprini, Minneapolis Public Schools board member.

She said the federal government has failed to provide leadership during the COVID-19 crisis so that schools can re-open safely. “If you don’t want to lead, then give us the resources and get the hell out of the way!”

Addressing Governor Walz, Caprini urged that Minnesota schools should not re-open until the state has seen 14 days with no COVID-19 cases.

Outside the Governor’s residence, the crowd of marchers lined both sides of Summit Avenue, people wearing masks and keeping a safe distance apart.

Speakers spoke to the crowd from atop an antique fire truck equipped with a sound system.

Paul Rozycki, Robbinsdale Schools

Paul Rozycki, education support professional for the Robbinsdale Public Schools, outside the Governor’s residence.

Minerva Cotorra, a parent of students at Whittier International Elementary in Minneapolis, implored Walz to “take the necessary actions to keep my children and our families safe.”

“We are not ready to re-open the public schools with safe in-person classes,” she said. “Right now it is too risky to re-open.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Cotorra asked, what was the use of all the sacrifice during the state’s shutdown of economic activity “if we make this one wrong decision to re-open schools before it is safe?”

“Governor Walz, make the right decision,” Cotorra said. “Start-off the school year with distance learning and keep our children safe.”

Another speaker observed, “people are making decisions right now. Ironically, they’re probably doing that over a Zoom meeting.”

Mary Turner, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association and nurse in the COVID ward at North Memorial Hospital, said she has seen the ages of her COVID-19 patients going down over time. She urged Walz: “Please, please do not let the next trend I see in my Intensive Care Unit be our teachers and our frontline workers —and, God forbid, our children!

In the nursing profession, Turner said, nurses follow “the precautionary principle:  do not wait for bad results to prevent harm.”

“You have a choice, Governor, you have a choice,” Turner said. “We don’t have to go back [to school] until we’re ready.”

Kerry Jo Felder, Minneapolis Public Schools board member, addressed the crowd while still wearing a mask and while wearing latex gloves. “Look at me. Do I look like it’s safe to be here? I’m afraid,” she said.

“We can’t even fully fund our schools,” Felder said. “How are we going to fund Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone safe?”

Kerry Jo Felder, Minneapolis school board member Kerry Jo Felder, Minneapolis School Board member, spoke to the crowd outside the Governor’s mansion about safety concerns in re-opening schools this fall: “Look at me: do I look like it’s safe to be here? I’m afraid... We can’t even fully-fund our schools. How are we going to fund Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone safe?”

“We are in a crisis,” said Chauntyll Allen, Saint Paul Public Schools board member. “This is not just a school crisis. It is a city, state and national crisis.”

“We’ve got to start thinking outside the box and we need Walz to think outside the box, too,” Allen said.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Education asked Minnesota schools to plan for three possible scenarios for the fall: “in-person learning for all students, hybrid learning, and distance learning.”

From June 15 through July 6, the Department collected more than 130,000 responses to a survey asking parents for their opinions about schools re-opening in the fall.

A summary of survey findings reported that 42 percent of parents said their students had a bad experience with distance learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

And while 64 percent of parents answered “yes” to the question of whether they would “feel comfortable sending your student(s) back to a classroom this fall,” almost 36 percent answered “no” or said they were unsure.

Click here for the full text of “Safe Schools” demands. At the link, supporters also can add their name to an online petition urging Governor Walz to support the teachers’ demands.

Teachers march

The march left the Governor’s residence, chanting, “Governor Walz, keep us safe” and returned to J.J. Hill Montessori.


Madeline Rost (left) came to the event to support her friend, Monica Goodrum (right), a first grade teacher at Jenny Lind school in Minneapolis and member of MFT Local 59.


Teachers marched in St. Paul to the Governor’s mansion July 24 asking Governor Walz to meet a list of safety demands before schools re-open.


Sign on a car

Sign on a car participating in the car carvan.


Sign on a car

Sign on a car participating in the car carvan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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