Seattle School Board to vote on next steps for Mann groups

Screen-Shot-2013-11-04-at-4.59.21-PMA battle over inequality and “sub-standard” resources that has a community group taking over a Central District schoolhouse slated for a significant construction project may finally have reached a point of solution. Wednesday night the Seattle School Board will consider and vote on a proposal that will give community groups currently in control of the district’s Horace Mann building at 23rd and Cherry access to Seattle Schools-funded portables on the Mann campus and rooms at another district facility.

In September, Seattle Public Schools told us it was working out a deal with the Central District community groups using the Horace Mann building. It’s November and the old school house lined up for a major renovation is still filled with community groups who said they’re not going anywhere — even if it puts a major wrinkle in the SPS plans to move programs there to make way for the $14.2 million project to rebuild Capitol Hill’s Meany Middle School.

The groups were told to vacate multiple times since summer so renovations could begin to make way for a planned return of the Nova Alternative High School return next fall, Central District News reports. Grassroots community group More 4 Mann continues to operate out of the building, according to CDN. The revelation prompted the Seattle Times to go on the offensive as the paper called More 4 Mann “squatters” and called for the groups to be removed from the building.

More 4 Mann, however, says it is doing much more than squatting in the building:

We want to continue to show the unified community of African-American parents, educators and students working together to take responsibility for the education of our children.
Now is the time to rectify the past inequities and ineffective methods to educate our children.
We will no longer accept and allow sub-standard resources, results, programs and policies directed to our young scholars.

Saturday, More 4 Mann scheduled an afternoon press conference “to announce the positive educational outcomes and programs that our community will offer and our exciting forthcoming partnership with Seattle Public Schools.”

The proposal to be considered by the board later this week would cost approximately $1,120, according to Seattle Schools staff.

The proposal also describes how the situation played out over the summer:

To support community work and to utilize the closed Mann school, Seattle Public Schools had a lease with Peoples Family Life for the Mann building. Peoples Family Life had sublet a portion of their space to Seattle Amistad School and allowed other community organizations to use the building for their programming. Since the spring of 2013, Superintendent Banda and staff have attended community meetings, visited the programs and met with community members and the people using the Mann building. The lease expired on June 15, 2013 and due to the passage of BEX IV, it was not renewed because NOVA School is now scheduled to return to the Mann building for the 2014-15 school year. Construction was anticipated to start on September 1, 2013.

The District allowed Seattle Amistad School to stay at the building after June 15, 2013 to provide them with more time to find a suitable location, notifying them that the building needed to be vacated by August 15, 2013. In turn, Seattle Amistad School continued to allow portions of the building to be used by community groups for community work. On August 15, Seattle Amistad School moved to another location, but the community groups stayed and occupied the building to continue their programs. They felt strongly that the Mann building holds an important place in the African-American cultural history of the Central District and represents an important symbol for the education of African-American youth in Seattle Public Schools. In meetings with district staff, they expressed their view that the district was failing to educate their students and had broken many past promises regarding programs for African-American youth. The District did not execute a lease or other agreement with these groups.

The document also makes it clear that Schools doesn’t necessarily have the upper hand in the current situation:

At this time, the District does not control the building. Individuals associated with AfricaTown Center for Education & Innovation continue to occupy the Horace Mann building, and have chained the building from the inside. The District continues to provide heat and electricity to the building.

The alternative option should the board decide the lease would be a violation of policy?

Do not approve the lease, in which case the District will need to take legal action or request the police to forcibly remove the individuals occupying the Mann Building. This likely would have adverse impacts on the District’s relationships with the community.

According to the proposal, the groups entering into the agreement would be on the hook for $7,000 in rent to cover the district facilities.

13 thoughts on “Seattle School Board to vote on next steps for Mann groups

  1. I am happy to see this article using non-biased language and reporting both sides of the story. The More 4 Mann Coalition is not a group of “squatters”, it’s made up of professional education experts (PhDs) and concerned parents working on building alternative education options that actually serve Black youth. As a white person who lives in the CD, I support these efforts. I attended the press conference and some of the other Africatown meetings. Folks expressed a lot of pain and hurt over how the school district has treated their children. I think it is hard for those of us who don’t have that lived experience to understand the deep emotions and complete frustration and skepticism driving this process. More 4 Mann simply wants to get the promises from the school district in writing before vacating the building for construction.

    • I have to preface my comment with a request for civil, open-minded discussion about this situation. I’ve seen some really hateful, closed-minded stuff online recently (from both sides), and it’s just pointless name-calling and subterfuge to avoid discussing the actual issues.

      More4Mann is only offering after-school and enrichment programs, NOT developing a curriculum in place of standard public education. Initially, I was under the impression that More4Mann wanted to educate AA kids as an alternative to public schools. My question is: if you want to educate AA kids, why not develop a curriculum and apply for charter school status? There’s a charter school process recently approved by WA voters. You have a lot of well-educated, committed people participating in this. It seems like you could put together an amazing school.

      That said, when I asked for specifics–mission statement, affiliations, oversight, methods for measuring student progress, teachers’ CV’s, etc–they would not commit to discussing it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask these questions–I feel it’s being a concerned community member and good consumer. Would you send your kids to a private school or day care if the only information you were given is that “we’ll do a good job”?

      As the parent of mixed-race kids, I agree that 1) SPS should be ashamed of the deplorable job they have done in “teaching” AA kids, and 2) SPS should formally discuss plans to co-house More4Mann’s after-school programs with NOVA. However, I think there needs to be some give-and-take on both sides. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for SPS to refuse to house these programs if More4Mann won’t supply specific information. I don’t agree that the community or SPS is obligated to support these groups.

      Please, Wyking, Omari, whoever–could we just discuss this without the typical smoke screens? Let the rest of the community in so that we can constructively help our kids.

  2. I walk past the building all the time. I never see students. Where are they? How many are there?

    I don’t doubt the intent, but I don’t see execution.

    Many of the stakeholders in more4mann are also involved in UmojaFest. They have been claiming that they are doing programming for several years now, and yet I rarely if ever see youth coming or going from their either.

  3. I am confused because nobody seems to have all the facts in one place. The building does not have any “squatters” to my knowledge. The people have been positive and friedly, just a good collection of people making an effort to improve the community. This is exactly the spirit that strengthens a community and I would like to see a peaceful resolution that helps them advance their efforts. They should be encouraged, not scorned for their efforts to break barriers by making positive contributions.

    • gotta disagree…. if they were subletting from a group that *has* moved out and have refused to do so themselves, they are squatting friendly or not… barricading themselves in is just making it worse and certainly doesn’t seem friendly…

  4. I am appalled by the behavior of both sides. I cannot believe that Seattle Public Schools is exercising such poor stewardship of a public asset. They need to have More 4 Mann removed from the Horace Mann building immediately. The group does not have a lease, and does not have the right to occupy the property.

    While I strongly agree that SPS needs to do a lot more to provide a quality education to all children, it is a complete disgrace that More 4 Mann appears to be using this issue to push their agenda to obtain free real estate. If More 4 Mann really cared about their educational programming, they would be working to find a suitable location with a lease. Based on the information I have read in previous articles and posts, the former MLK elementary school building has ample space. It is also a very convenient and accessible location.

    • The MLK building is not owned by the district anymore, it has private owners now with their own agenda.

      • I am aware of the fact that the MLK building is no longer owned by SPS. Since the current owners were given the benefit of a purchase price significantly below market value, and they have ample vacant space, it would be appropriate for them to open their arms to the More 4 Mann after school program.

  5. Honestly if they would lose the Africatown label and did-associate with Omari or his son then I might give them a second thought. Having been a witness to Omari’s assault on the mayor I can not give him the benifit of the doubt.

  6. Seems like a “seperate but equal” school system from the 1950’s. Isn’t that racist school system what the nation shut down in the south?

  7. I understand that half of us would want M4M, Afrikatown, et. al. to have the resources to develope alternative curriculums and programs. But, that is too much to expect from a small organization with virtually no significant resources. At this point they are an advocacy group with dreams of something greater. This is the only case in which I have ever dared usurp the much over used line “I have a dream.” I think it applies well in this situation.

    It is extremely clear that SPS has failed a huge segment of the population and is incapable of mustering the forces needed to change in any significant way. M4M, Afrikatown, the Garrets, and others are a neccissary force for change. This is a perfect opportunity to focus on the grotesque failures of SPS.

    Please consider how necissary is that we achieve change. How important it is to have change agents like Omari in our society. Yes – he is a polarizing figure and these groups present challenges to many our beliefs. I thank them for that.

    Let’s help them to find new alternatives and pathways forward for youth and in particular the black youth of the CD. They need change. They need our help. They need the attention this story can bring. I want to see this conflict escalate until enough positive forces are engaged to really make a difference in where we are headed. Right now – a giant share of CD kids are headed for ruin.

    There is an opportunity hear. Try not to kill it.