Dear Superintendent David Law and Anoka-Hennepin School Board:
On July 31, 2020, it was announced that Anoka-Hennepin Schools would operate under a hybrid model of learning in which schools would reopen at 50% capacity. This model was determined by a bi-weekly case rate (over 14 days) of COVID-19 by county of residence. Because Anoka-Hennepin spans across two counties, Anoka-Hennepin must follow the numbers of the county with the highest biweekly case rate, Hennepin County.
The Anoka-Hennepin Teachers of Color Coalition is a self-organized collective of teachers of color across Anoka-Hennepin Schools. We understand the large span of the communities Anoka-Hennepin serves. Yet, we also know that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the communities we represent and love have been deeply and disproportionately affected. We assert that the planning around and decision to use the hybrid learning model upholds systemic racism and does not align with Anoka-Hennepin’s Equity Achievement Plan. On behalf of the Anoka-Hennepin Teachers of Color Coalition, we are asking you to consider these concerns as Anoka-Hennepin Schools plan to reopen in a hybrid model.
Concern 1: While Anoka-Hennepin Schools reopening plans are based on county numbers, there is not enough consideration for the way COVID-19 is impacting our hardest hit cities and communities.
- Within Hennepin County, Anoka-Hennepin serves families from Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are among the cities with the highest number of confirmed Covid 19 cases.
- Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center have a rich culturally and linguistically diverse population in which communities of color makeup 56.8% in Brooklyn Park and 61.5% in Brooklyn Center.
- Black and Latinx communities are more likely to be infected with Covid 19. In Minnesota, each group makes up 20% of confirmed cases while they hold 5% and 6% of the state’s population.
- According to MN Report Card, four schools (Champlin Park High School, Jackson Middle, Monroe Elementary and Evergreen Park Elementary) have over 50% students of color in their schools. Monroe (72%) and Evergreen (92%) have been identified as racially identifiable schools in our district.
Concern 2: Communities of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
- According to the CDC, Latinx, Indigenous and Black communities are experiencing higher hospitalization rates than their white counterparts.
- Latinx children are 8 times as likely as white children to be hospitalized, while Black children are 5 times as likely.
- There is some evidence that COVID-19 is impacting South East Asian American communities because they have disproportionately higher rates of underlying health conditions than other Asian Americans.
- In Minnesota, people of color are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts.
- “People of color makeup 63% of the deaths among adults under age 64, though they are just 16% of that population. But even among older residents, people of color account for 15% of the deaths, triple their share of the population.”
- Because AH serves 63% white students and employs over 96% white licenced teachers, district leadership appears to be appealing to the majority white constituent base of Anoka-Hennepin who may not have witnessed the devastating impacts of COVID-19 due to systemic inequities.
Concern 3: Equity is not the same as choice.
- While any student in Anoka-Hennepin can opt into distance learning, a family’s socio-economic and work situation impacts whether or not a family is able to choose distance learning.
- It is clear that distance learning is the choice that prevents infections, but it is a choice that families with resources, access to tutors, childcare, and work flexibility can accomplish.
- For parents of students who are also essential workers, hybrid is the only option. This option forces more unwanted exposure to COVID-19.
- Families seeking to work from home will likely have less support, less understanding, and less flexibility from employers that are aware that in-person learning is an option in their child’s school.
Concern 4: Teachers of Color do not feel safe and protected as they return to work.
- The A-H Hybrid model, an opening at 50% capacity, still warrants large amounts of exposure between staff and students. There are not enough safety measures to limit the spread of possible infection and we ask the district to consider additional recommendations outlined by the state to minimize exposure to the greatest extent possible.
- Anoka-Hennepin’s equity statement values a diverse workforce; there are plans in place to recruit and retain teachers of color (per Priority Domain 1: Climate, goal 2). However, there is no equity when the health and safety concerns of BIPOC are not addressed.
- Please refer to Concern #2 (Communities of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 pandemic.) BIPOC are at a higher risk for contracting a more severe strain.
- Understand that early career and incoming new teachers of color are also vulnerable because they do not have the same level of agency, protection and accrued sick days as Tier 4 teachers.
Concern 5: We feel that the district has not engaged families of color and multilingual families on sufficient input in reopening plans.
- The Anoka-Hennepin Parent/Guardian Feedback Survey was only conducted in English. Because over 100 languages and dialects are spoken among Anoka-Hennepin families (see page 2), this survey is less accessible and limits the district in understanding the full educational needs of all Anoka-Hennepin students and families.
- Because of the way COVID-19 has impacted communities of color and that many of Anoka-Hennepin families reside in cities with high rates of COVID-19, it is crucial to ensure that we have sufficient input on a plan for reopening schools that ensures the highest standard of safety.
As teachers, we understand the profound disconnect this district has between their stated vision for equity and their inability to prioritize resources and support to carry it out. We are tired of having the language of equity used without true commitment to decentralize whiteness and its social, political, and economic hold in our schools, especially as Anoka-Hennepin plans for reopening.
As teachers who represent black and brown communities, we come from families and communities that are multiracial, multicultural, multilingual, and multigenerational. We name our identities and families as assets because of our persistent desire to resist, live, and create. Our elders, care-givers, and children are valuable and provide access to other forms of knowledge and resources that disrupt an educational system that traditionally renders us as inferior. It is our families that sustain us in our work as valued educators and mentors for all children and youth in Anoka-Hennepin.
The staff, students, and families in our Hennepin County schools cannot risk being the hybrid experiment that is anticipated to fail so that the entire district can transition to our safest option when it does. Doing so will come at the cost of the health of our communities of color. We need courageous leadership now. This requires using multiple metrics to guide a safe reopening using an equity lens that centers the cities and communities who are most impacted by Covid-19 with their voices heard in the process.
According the A-H Equity Achievement Plan, “Educational equity is when educational policies, practices, interactions, and resources, are representative of, constructed by, and responsive to all students such that each individual has access to, can meaningfully participate and make progress in high quality learning experiences that empower them towards self- determination and reduces disparities in outcomes regardless of individual characteristics and cultural identities (GLEC, 2012).” When communities of color are disproportionately impacted by Covid 19, it is essential that you center their health and concerns to develop more creative and equitable solutions that provide educational access and meaningful participation and do not risk the lives and well-being of our beloved students, families, and employees.
Anoka-Hennepin Teachers of Color Coalition
Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota
The Anoka-Hennepin Teachers of Color Coalition (AHTOCC) is a collective of teachers/members of color dedicated to their own personal and collective empowerment through advocacy, mentorship, and partnership.