MINNEAPOLIS — On the seventh day without school due to the ongoing teachers strike, the Minneapolis NAACP held a press conference outside the Davis Center Wednesday in support of Black members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59.
"This is the reason why we're out here," chapter president Cynthia Wilson said. "We will support our Black teachers, we will support our Black students, and we're definitely going to support our ESPs because they need it."
ESPs, or educational support professionals, currently make around $24,000 per year. However, the union is bargaining with Minneapolis Public Schools to try to bring it up to $35,000. As the NAACP points out, many ESPs are Black.
"As we continue to talk about equality we have to mention equity," former Minneapolis NAACP president and event moderator Leslie E. Redmond said. "We have to make sure that the least of us, right, that those that are getting paid the least, right, those who have one job and can't even provide for one family, are being elevated during these times."
Speakers also said job protection is as important as the higher pay, adding that both Black ESPs and Black teachers deserve protection from what is called "excessing," which usually means finding out in spring that you are likely out of a job next fall. It just happened to ESP Tra Carter, a behavior dean who has worked at Clara Barton Community School for the last five years.
"From supporting the students, to starting other curricular activities, to starting programs at the school that they haven't had yet, I got excessed this year," Carter said. "I'm the only African American man at Barton."
Many Black teachers are new, young hires and are often the first to go when schools are forced to make cuts — which they say is detrimental to Black students.
"They say that all the time," said Chundra Cobbin, a third-grade teacher at Lucy Laney School. "'You remind me of my auntie, Ms. Cobbin.' The students need those things. They need to make that connection in order to be able to learn."
Cobbin was an ESP before becoming a teacher and says her job was on the line several times throughout her career, but that her administration fought for her to stay.
"If we don't include protections for teachers of color out of seniority order from excessing and layoffs, we are signaling to our children that we don't value the people who look like them," fellow Minneapolis teacher Nafeesah Muhammad said.
Minneapolis Public Schools says the district tried to propose several initiatives focused on teachers and staff of color, but says MFT refused to discuss those efforts until an agreement on salaries, class sizes and caseloads is made. Some of those initiatives included recruiting incentives, mentoring programs and equity training.
The district says, as a result, 25 percent of the 250 positions recently cut were held by teachers of color.
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