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Protests prompt Minneapolis school board to rehire employees

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The Minneapolis school board passed a resolution in support of rehiring several district employees Tuesday night after protest overwhelmed its meeting. 

Protesters claimed the district fires people of color in disproportionately high numbers and demanded six employees be rehired or recommended for rehiring.

"Staff of color, especially staff that have been advocating for youth are being punished for that and are dealing with employee violence," said Michelle Barnes, one of the employees who say they were fired or forced to leave the district.

A group called Social Justice Education Movement publicized the protest. The group is a committee of the industrial Workers of the World union, according to its website.

Board chair Rebecca Gagnon said the resolution was an unusual move and not necessarily a permanent one — the district could decide to remove the employees again.

"What I'm hoping is we bought some trust from the community, they felt heard and validated," she said "The process should allow for more voice and input before folks are — even probationary teachers are laid off."

Barnes called the resolution "a small win" but said the protesters aren't done. "There is a bigger fight here, and so we're going to keep working to protect youth of color in schools ... also protecting and supporting and investing in educators of color moving forward."

Gagnon said she doesn't have a racial breakdown for staff cuts, but she said one is coming — perhaps as early as next month's board committee meeting.

"No, I don't agree with how last night went, but I believe being there and listening to one story after another, it was hard to argue that there wasn't something that needed to be addressed," Gagnon said.

Protesters also claimed hot lunches had been withheld from students as punishment at some schools. Gagnon said that would violate current district policy, and the board plans to clarify that policy language. She added that the district's lawyer is following up on the lunch complaints.