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The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare, and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.

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The following stories are a selection from those shared by MFT members who hope to shed light on the conditions experienced by staff and students in Minneapolis Public Schools buildings on a daily basis.

Clean and Healthy Buildings

At Right: Dead Mouse. This is the washing machine for the towels used to wipe the faces of children with disabilities.

Mouse Feces everywhere

Mouse feces are everywhere in my classroom. I see mice throughout the day. Once, a student who is non-verbal and had a dead mouse attached to their skirt until staff noticed and had it removed. I wished she was able to go home and tell her parents.

Life- threatening allergies make work difficult

This year has been very difficult for me due to worksite exposure. In the fall they were painting at Howe and the paint of gasses methylchlorisothiazinilone, which I am allergic to. I communicated back and forth with safety and security about the painting schedule, air exchange, etc.. One issue was that said the air exchange in our school should have been good (exchanging air 7x/hour) but in reality this system was only running from 9am-3pm on school days. After my communication they did increase the amount this was running (controlled from Davis). In addition I hav=d to work at an alternate site for 2 weeks plus to avoid having a serious allergic reaction- they planned to paint the cafeteria during a break, but didn’t and came back on a different schedule without notification, making me flee the building. The painting scheduled for Hiawatha was scheduled for this Summer due to my concerns, but they have come in and spot painted from place to place without any notification causing rashes and airway swelling. They came in to replace the sound systems in our buildings and used spray paint, and I found out by breaking out in hives and then asking questions. This winter at Hiawatha they began roofing with tar. I was unsure of my reaction to this (no known allergy) until 1 hour after the tar smell filled my office (there is a clean air vent that blows directly from the roof into my face). I contacted safety and security and they covered my vent (I’ll send a pic tomorrow, it’s a joke). Have had to leave about 6 times this winter due to the tar and I have vomited on my way out, as well as had airway swelling. Today my lips have been tingling and my bottom lip swelled so bad it split. I have been taking antihistamines like candy. I have began seeing a new allergist. I have had to show off my epic pen to my coworkers. I feel bad leaving the students in a building I can’t breathe in, but a remote alive nurse is better then a present dead nurse.

Unmet needs disrupt lessons

I’m in the middle of a lesson when I hear a student cussing in the hallway. Two of the bathrooms are locked so students can’t access them. The third bathroom is out of toilet paper. I had to leave my class under the supervision of another SEA that was working 1:1 with a kid so that this student didn’t poop their pants. I walkied for an engineer to help. They were busy. I quickly ran to the girls bathroom and frantically grabbed wads of toilet paper. I shouldn’t have to abandon a lesson because our bathrooms aren’t stocked with necessities.

Basic necessities are missing

I have a gorgeous media center to work in, however since it is at the end of the building, the cinder-block walls are exposed on 3 sides to the Minnesota winter. When the outside temperature is below 10 degrees or so, the air temp in the media center frequently falls to the upper 50s which is just too cold to be in all day. Conversely, in the heat of June, the AC often doesn't cool it off and it's been measured in the 80s or even 90s on very hot days. It's absolutely miserable and affects my lessons as kids are complaining (and I have to be in it all day). In the extreme heat, it is actually cooler outside, however the windows have been permanently sealed closed so we are unable to get any fresh air.

No space for nursing mother

As a nursing mother, I had to use the designated space at school to pump, which was a former women's bathroom (which is against the law). The bathroom was still being used by staff and students on a very regular basis. I had to worry about people walking in on me, and a co-worker was interrupted and asked by another adult to hurry up because they had to use the restroom. The clinic used that bathroom for students who needed to pee into cups for STI testing, and because the space was not a designated bathroom engineers did not regularly clean it, nor was it filled with soap or paper towels. This filthy bathroom is where I had to express milk to feed my newborn baby.

Engineers go above and beyond to meet basic needs

Our building is clean but that is because our head janitor works her tail off. She is constantly working overtime because it’s hard to find help with the salary cuts that the janitors took a few years ago. I understand that the district is trying to balance the budget due to the mistakes and failures of previous superintendents but it should not be on the backs of the district employees…we had no say in how the money was spent and we didn’t buy out the contracts of unsuccessful leaders.

Frigid temps in Media Center

I have a gorgeous media center to work in, however since it is at the end of the building, the cinder-block walls are exposed on 3 sides to the Minnesota winter. When the outside temperature is below 10 degrees or so, the air temp in the media center frequently falls to the upper 50s which is just too cold to be in all day. Conversely, in the heat of June, the AC often doesn't cool it off and it's been measured in the 80s or even 90s on very hot days. It's absolutely miserable and affects my lessons as kids are complaining (and I have to be in it all day). In the extreme heat, it is actually cooler outside, however the windows have been permanently sealed closed so we are unable to get any fresh air.

Student Volunteers are NOT an Acceptable Replacement for Engineers

For many years the students in the DCD program collected recycling from each room. We stopped this practice because it was demeaning to students with disabilities. When the DCD program stopped collecting recyclables, that meant that all recycling stopped for the entire building for an entire year. The engineer staff are not staffed appropriately to make sure recycling gets done. We now have a Green Team of mainstream students that earn service hours for collecting recycling. However, many members of the Green Team are also in the theater production. When students are doing theater after school it means that recycling stops. How much day to day work is subsidized by staff and students? I clean my own floors. I bring my own soap to the bathrooms.

A construction zone is NOT a classroom

A few years ago, our school was under construction. Many rooms (including mine) were demolished as they went about the redesign. Since I didn’t have a room, I was teaching in the ski room. The room was always slippery as athletes wax their skis there. I had fallen, three, maybe four times since the beginning of the year and just considered it part of my day. But one day was different. I was teaching poetry, specifically poetic vocabulary. I turned from the board, where I had just written the definition for Assonance, and a second later, I was on my butt, in front of the students. We all laughed, but as I got up, I realized that my dress was actually wet. The floor was filling with water! It was seeping in from the hallway. I called the main office and I was informed that a pipe had burst. “Whatever you do, the voice said, “Do Not let the kids into the hallway!” The ski room opened up into the courtyard, so as the classroom continued to flood, I directed the students to go outside. It was fall, so the weather wasn’t too bad. My 38 students brought their notebooks and pens into the courtyard, where they sat down in a circle around me. This actually sounds beautiful, right? It wasn’t. Because in the courtyard was a huge crane, and on the crane were workers who were using tools that were chopping off parts of the building. The noise was horrifying. It was like being in a dentist’s office with the volume magnified 10 times. I tried to shout over the noise. “Onomatopoia!” I said. “The word is onomatopoeia!” “What?” I student yelled. “I can’t hear anything!” “ONOMATOPOIA!” I screamed. I used what I imagined to be my football coach voice, even though I had never palyed, much less coached the game. “How do you spell it?” a young boy hollered. I tried to yell the spelling, but obviously, that was not going to work. I borrowed someone’s notebook, and wrote in in big letters: ONOMATOPOIA! I am shorter than all of my students so I balanced(like a tightrope walker) on the skinny top part of a metal bench and moved the notebook around until all 38 of my students could see how to spell the vocab word. “Ah,” I thought. “This is working.” That’s when the brick fell. From the hands of one of the workers standing in the crane. It fell right behind me. Could it have fallen on a student? Yes. Could it have fallen on my head? Yes. I moved my students as far away from the crane as possible, until they were clumped into the corner opposite my room. Then I rushed back to the ski room, and stepped inside. The engineer was shopvacing the room. “Came from the bathroom across the way,” he said. “That’s what you smell. Sewage. Should have been in here 20 minutes ago,” he said. I looked at my stained dress. It had cost me $14 at a thrift store. My 38 students and I stayed in the courtyard until the room was ready. Then they moved on to their next class to learn. “Every child, college ready,” was the phrase of the month that year. I laughed as I read it on the top of the website of Minneapolis Public Schools. How about, “Every child safe, every day?” Or every teacher safe, every day? Or “who’s going to pay for my feces stained dress? I’m broke.”