MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Public Schools issued a statement Sunday, saying Minneapolis North High School principal Mauri Friestleben will finish out the school year in her current position, walking back a previous announcement that she would take a leave of absence.
Superintendent Ed Graff said Friestleben will finish the term "in an effort to bring this school year to a successful close for North students." He also apologized for "the difficulty this situation has caused" to students and the wider community.
Dear Polar Community,
I am writing to share that Principal Mauri Friestleben will continue as the North High School leader through the end of the school year in an effort to bring this school year to a successful close for North students.
We apologize for the difficulty this situation has caused the North community—and especially our Polar students. Principal Friestleben will be welcoming students again at North on Monday.
The volley between MPS and Friestleben began Friday, as the district announced she would take a leave of absence through the end of the school year. MPS did not give an explicit reason for the departure, but 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."
Friestleben first announced she would not be returning to North High Friday afternoon, saying she believed her participation in a February sit-in with students was the reasoning behind the school's decision to terminate her employment.
"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."
It's unclear why the district has now changed positions, but on Sunday, Friestleben told KARE 11 she is "overwhelmed with gratitude" to be returning to work Monday morning.
On Friday afternoon I was relieved of my duties as principal of North High. I'd known for about a week that termination was pending due to protocol violation but that didn't soften the blow.
I turned everything in and shared a goodbye letter. I deactivated social media and, though phone-less, heard the call sent to North parents off of Mike's phone (we're North parents, too). I was sad that my families were listening to that robocall while preparing for Prom. Mike took some texts and calls to his phone but I stayed low; the sadness too heavy.
But today something changed. After church a different call came in and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to return to North tomorrow morning to finish the year. I am especially grateful to be back with my kids during these vulnerable times as relationship is what's getting us through.
I am sad I missed prom as I was directly told to not attend; but I saw all the photos and beamed with pride as the Polars, like usual, killed the game (Period, Pooh).
To my kids: I love you like my own. I'll see you guys in the morning. We still have a lot of work to do. So let's get to it.
Neither the district nor Friestleben have addressed whether she’ll return to MPS in any capacity following this semester. When KARE 11 reached out to the district for clarification, a spokesperson said, "The only information I currently have is what we’ve shared today. And that did not include any details about what will happen next school year."
"I feel like it's not fair to completely discredit everything that she's done for North and discredit everything that she's done, in general," said Khadija Ba, a senior at North High.
"We know that Principal Mauri is the lifeline of North High School and without her the community is shattered," said Jerome Treadwell, executive director of MN Teen Activists.
Treadwell said in response to the latest news, students are no longer doing a walkout and rally Monday but instead will re-strategize their demands for Friestleben to be permanently reinstated.
"We want to make sure that that lasts not only until the end of this school year but for however long after and after the next years to come," Treadwell said.
Minneapolis NAACP is holding a protest Monday at 9 a.m. at the John B. Davis Education and Service Center in support of Friestleben and to demand her "immediate reinstatement."
Ba added, "She's defended us time after time after time. So what would we look like if we're not fighting for her just the way she's fighting for us?"
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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, MPS announced Friestleben would move to the principal role at North Community High School.