MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis principal and educator Mauri Friestleben announced Friday that she is no longer with Minneapolis Public Schools.
In a letter to North Community High School families, Friestleben said Friday was her last day with the district. The letter cited her participation in a February sit-in alongside students as the reason for her dismissal.
"In early February, students across the state of Minnesota were planning and attending various forms of civil action in response to the shooting death of Amir Locke in Minneapolis," Friestleben wrote in her latter. "MPS requires schools to follow protocols in times like that and I did not. Specifically, I encouraged our students to plan their own actions. I gave them examples of historical civil disobedience (like sit-ins) and pledged to join them in their action."
Friestleben said students planned and organized a walk-out and sit-in at Minneapolis City Hall on Feb. 9, and she "went with them to city hall and was in the crowd as they led their sit-in and spoke."
"I bear no ill will towards MPS whatsoever," Friestleben wrote. "I was 'strongly' advised to not attend the sit-in with my students and I did so anyway. I will not hold anyone other than myself accountable for this outcome and ask others to do the same."
In a statement to KARE 11, Minneapolis Public Schools did not specifically state that Friestleben was fired from North.
"Starting on Monday, May 23, Principal Mauri Friestleben will be on leave for the remainder of the school year," the district said. "During this time, Dr. Michael V. Walker, the founding leader of the Office of Black Student Achievement (OBSA) will lead North High."
In a separate statement, the district maintained that it put Friestleben on leave, but didn't provide much additional information. The statement said in part, "We can share that Ms. Friestleben's employment was not terminated. If Principal Friestleben chooses to end her employment with MPS, her decision will be respected and her leadership will be missed. MPS will do everything it can to support the North community as we move through the end of the school year."
Friestleben's letter noted that the end of her time at North is less concerning to her than the shooting death of student Deshaun Hill Jr. on the same day as the sit-in.
"The tragedy of that day, though, will never be my termination from MPS as a result of my choice to join my students," she wrote. "The tragedy of that day will always be while we were en route downtown, our beloved classmate, Deshaun Hill Jr. was en route going home and was murdered along the way. That devastation will always and forever overpower, for me, what was a lovely example of peaceful protest the Polars engaged in that day."
Friestleben earned nationwide attention and accolades during her career in Minneapolis Public Schools, most notably for her leadership in turning around disciplinary issues and low student achievement at Lucy Laney Elementary School. Her work at Lucy Laney was chronicled in an award-winning feature-length documentary produced by KARE 11, "Love Them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney Elementary."
In August 2019, Minneapolis Public Schools announced Friestleben would move to the principal role at North Community High School.
In her departure letter, Friestleben offered some final words of encouragement for North students.
"You are all in amazing hands with one another. As I tell you ever day: You are Loved More than You Know. You are Braver that You Can Imagine. You are More Beautiful Beyond what You can Sometimes See and Stronger that You Sometimes Feel. You still have a lot of work left to do. So get to it."