Mpls. sees emptier classrooms, toilet paper shortages, cold fare

2022-06-18 05:49:48 By : Ms. Jennifer Deng

Walking through her children's elementary school in Minneapolis this week, Kelly McKenzie noticed a sign on the bathroom door: "No soap. No toilet paper. No paper towels."

McKenzie had already been sending extra food with her kids to supplement the cold, "picnic-style" lunches served this week, a result of the district's contracts for school meals mostly expiring June 10. She said she would have included hand soap and paper towels in her kids' backpacks if she'd known those would also run out at Jefferson Elementary, soon to be renamed Ella Baker.

The Minneapolis school year went into overtime this week, the first of two extra weeks to make up for time lost during the teacher's strike this spring. Besides the cold fare and missing soap, it was also a time of outdoor fun to ease the pain of a postponed summer break.

In Minneapolis schools, it's not just bathroom tissue dispensers that are empty. Many desks are too, particularly in the high schools, because so many parents excused their children from attending the final two weeks of class, and many graduating seniors weren't required to. Still, some high schoolers can't seem to get enough. Washburn High School parents got a message explaining that students who were excused shouldn't be coming to the building to "hang out."

Students who take city buses to get to class got another surprise on Monday when they discovered their passes had expired. Metro Transit drivers have been directed to simply have students flash their passes to catch a ride during the school year extension.

"I'm not faulting anybody here and so much of this is hard on all parties, not just parents," said Chris Flannery, the father of three children in Minneapolis Public Schools. His daughter, a freshman at Washburn, realized over the weekend that her bus pass was no longer valid.

His two younger children, who attend Clara Barton Elementary, have been waking up earlier to pack their own lunches after deciding they didn't like the school's cold sandwiches.

Still, Flannery said teachers are finding ways to make the added days more enjoyable. His high schooler, who typically plays the bass, got to swap instruments with her classmates and even learned two simple songs on the clarinet.

Students at Sheridan Elementary — soon to be Las Estrellas — are also ending the year with some fun. They spent Friday at a nearby park for a field day of spirited games of tug-of-war, obstacle courses and potato sack races.

Student and teacher absences ticked up this week, but attendance improved for field day, said Principal Yajaira Guzmán Carrero. For next week, however, she's approved about 50 excused absences in a school of 350 students.

Though the fun activities are a positive way to cap off a turbulent year, Guzmán Carrero said she directed teachers to make sure the final two weeks include routines and new lessons.

"This is extended learning time," she said. "It's important that kids know they're coming for a purpose and a reason."

Laura Zimmermann has been trying to find ways to help her daughter, a junior at Washburn, find that purpose, especially since she got excused from attending class. While her peers at other high schools have few, if any, new assignments, Zimmermann's daughter estimates she had about 35 hours of schoolwork to do this week.

"I just keep telling her 'If you think of this as summer break, then that's a ton of work,'" Zimmermann said. "But if you think of this as the end of the school year, then it's closer to normal."

Meghan Cyr, the mother of two students at Sheridan, attended the school's field day on Friday.

"For us, these two weeks have been fine," she said. "After all that's happened this school year, it's hard to be upset at this point. You just learn to roll with it."

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