Issues of race and justice have roiled the Minneapolis school district for months. As the district’s chief of accountability, research, and equity, Eric Moore has been immersed in much of that debate.
In March, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Minneapolis schools, the district found itself facing a profound digital divide: 70 percent of the district’s African-American students did not have a computer they could use for remote learning.
But even before the pandemic, the 36,000-student district was debating changing its school boundaries to reduce racial and economic segregation. On May 13, the school board approved the restructuring, which will affect the attendance patterns of thousands of students starting in the 2021-22 school year.
Just about two weeks after that vote, George Floyd, a black man, died after he was arrested by Minneapolis police for allegedly using a fake $20 bill. The video of Floyd pinned to the ground by a white police officer, begging for air, sparked protests that have spread around the country and the world.
The tragic incident prompted the Minneapolis school board on Tuesday to sever ties with the police department, which had provided school resource officers to district schools. By August, Superintendent Ed Graff must present to the board a new student safety plan that will include security officers.
Moore talked with Education Week this week about the district’s next steps after the SRO decision, and how districts can approach difficult conversations about racism and racial equity. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Education Week: What will your role be now that the school board has voted to terminate the school resource officer contract?
Moore: I have a climate framework steering committee, and one of the task forces of that steering committee is physical environment and safety. So that task force group will be developing a set of belief statements about how we want to engage security, what values we want to have in terms of those adults, engaging with our students. And then we’re going to have to come up with a revised plan.
There’s a need for us to declare our values as a community—staff, students, teachers, union, non-union—it’s really about the values of the district.
Education Week: It sounds like you are seeing this as just a part and parcel of larger work.
Moore: Absolutely. You’ve eliminated the SRO position, but you still have to have [security positions] at the schools. And I think it’s naive to think that those adults have not also been influenced by racism, white supremacist thought, issues of power and race. Whatever adult you bring in to support our students, they have to be made aware of concepts of power and privilege.
We have really strong school resource officers in some cases. Those are folks that do their work with an equity lens. But the challenge is that it’s not systemic. We have to make sure that when we have adults in front of our students, that people having equity lenses isn’t by happenstance, but that we’re very deliberate on doing that work. That’s our responsibility.
Education Week: What was your response to the video of George Floyd’s arrest?
Moore: All of us have this process of grieving. But then, there’s also the recognition that folks need us also to lead and things have to move forward on behalf of our kids. Kids need support.
So we could have predicted the outrage and the anger and the sadness. How that played out—who could have predicted that? Even the concept of having the city militarized for a period of time—waking up and seeing businesses boarded up is traumatic for everyone that lives in that community.
Obviously, with COVID-19 and people being isolated, we’ve had this period of time when our humanity has been tested by not being able to have the same type of relationships that we’ve had. And now this happens.
Education Week: Has there been a positive side to the upheaval?
Moore: I’ve been very happy to see the protests and the diversity of those protesting. And it means a lot to me as an African-American man, when I see not only people of color protesting. We’ve always protested, so that’s expected. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the number of white allies out protesting with communities of color.
Education Week: Switching back to a school context and your equity work, do you think that this [unity] will last?
Moore: I think that [it] has the capacity to last, if we commit ourselves now to be engaged in the conversations and start developing plans for ongoing work. I was talking to a colleague and I said, what happens is that there’s a crisis and then everyone responds. And then after the crisis subsides, we go back to business as usual, because we don’t have a plan in place, and we don’t have a plan that’s funded and it’s not sustainable.
So, I think that we have to continue to have the dialogue and start planning future events. So, we’re in this moment now—what does that conversation look like next month? What does the conversation look like six months from now? What groups do we need to continue to convene, to develop the action plan?
We’re very fortunate in that we had already established though our [school] boundary work the need to do a climate framework. Those committees have students and community members and teachers and principals and central office staff. We already had the structure in place to continue those conversations and those meetings are already scheduled.
What it makes you think about is those districts or locations that had the structure for those conversations, it’s going to continue. And those locations that didn’t have the structures, there’s nowhere this energy can go.
And that’s why it’s important to develop those structures, because you can’t predict what’s going to happen. In moments of relative calm you can develop those equity structures, so when something happens, you have an ability to move these issues towards action.
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2020 edition of Education Week as Q&A: What’s Next for School Policing in Minneapolis