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North High School student leaders call for building improvements

Students say years of disinvestment have left the high school looking like “a prison” with windowless hallways and mice

MINNEAPOLIS — Khadija Ba walked the hallways of North High School with her cell phone camera rolling, hoping the video she captured would send a message.

“We are the blackest school in Minneapolis and this is what our school looks like,” she said into the camera.

In the wake of a city-wide reckoning over race, students and staff at North High School argue kids in the predominately black school deserve better.

As Ba toured the school, she pointed out long windowless hallways, outdated classrooms lacking any natural light, and holes and dents in walls and ceilings. Bathroom sinks are old and rusted.

In separate cell phone videos students can be seen jumping on their desks as a mouse runs through the classrooms.

“There’s such a big mice problem that sometimes the football players will like make games and try to catch them,” she told KARE 11.

The school also had to replace water fountains found with lead content above safe levels. The school custodians run water for two hours in the morning to flush the pipes and control the lead content. It’s consistent with the state’s best practices for solving the problem, but students say it’s still disconcerting.

“When you go to a different school for sports or something else, you see how nice their school is,” Ba said. “Then you come back to your school and it makes you sad.”

For Ba and other students, the conditions speak volumes.

“You go somewhere that literally looks like a jail and then you leave school and you have everyone else telling you that you’re going to go to jail, it kind of is like I don’t have an escape. This is my destiny,” she said.

Teacher Tom Lachermeir says he understands why kids would feel that way. The school facilities reflect years of neglect, he says, as North lost students and other schools in whiter, more affluent parts of the city, gained them.

“We’ve been disinvested in for a long time and I think our kids and our community deserve better. I do think that,” Lachermeir said.

Ed Graff, Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, told KARE 11 he appreciates Ba and other student leaders using their voice to demonstrate a problem.

He acknowledged that there are inequities in the district’s schools.

“We have a lot of inequities and a lot of things that need to be addressed – to where we could give opportunities to all of our students and it wouldn’t be dependent on their zip code,” Graff said.

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He points to the Comprehensive District Design as a potential solution. Under the plan, Minneapolis will shuffle school boundaries and invest in student success. A big part of that, Graff says, is a major investment in North High School.

The district plans to locate a new city-wide computer and technology hub in part of the building. As for North High School itself, plans include major infrastructure and capital improvements. Technology upgrades, a new entrance, performance space and furnishings are on the list. In all, a bid request for the project says “MPS expects to invest $60 to $80 million in the next 5-7 years at North High School. 

“We definitely want to make the changes we can within our educational system to do better,” Graff said.

But there remains skepticism about the plans at North where students and staff say they want more details. They argue when city and district leaders say “Black Lives Matter” it should extend to the high school students at North.

“I’m asking for equity. I want them to realize that we may not be the school that has the most materials, but we do have good students and we have students with potential,” said Ba.