Recent discussions to relocate the Misaabekong Ojibwe immersion school demonstrate how far the Duluth school district has to go in relation to cultural understanding, sensitivity, and competence. The idea of relocating marginalized populations to benefit dominant society is not new. However, I had hoped our district leadership would have seen the parallel to history and been sensitive to the implications and underlying message of relocating Missabekong. That message being: “We need your space to expand. You need to leave.”
Misaabekong was the first immersion program in the Duluth public schools. It has dedicated and involved parents, families, and staff. The school forest is an integral part of the curriculum and provides a multitude of learning opportunities for students. The students and staff have created a home at Lowell and should not be asked to move to another school.
I realize the Missabekong program is small — only four classrooms at present — and is thus an easy target for relocation. However, size is not all that matters. Lowell school was chosen as the home for Misaabekong for several reasons, all of them related to its location. Moving the program to another school would negate nearly all of those reasons and put the future of the program at risk.
The four proposals currently being discussed each would benefit students of privilege to the detriment of students of color and marginalized students at Lowell Elementary.
Two of the proposals include making Lowell an immersion-only school. This would result in the loss of funding for academic support and interventions that are currently benefiting students in all three programs: Ojibwe, Spanish, and English language. Considering that the district has failed to meet nearly all the goals for the World’s Best Work Force and Achievement and Integration Progress, keeping these interventions should be a priority. The other two proposals move Misaabekong to Stowe Elementary in Gary-New Duluth.
The glaring omission of a proposal that includes the relocation of the Spanish immersion program, or a section of it, speaks volumes about this district’s commitment, or lack thereof, to equity — and its foundation in privilege.
It is unconscionable that the district would ask the students with the most need to make the greatest sacrifice while preserving the comfort and protecting the privilege of students with greater resources.
Both immersion programs are beneficial to students in our district. Relocating one section of the Spanish immersion program to Stowe would increase access to this learning opportunity across the district. Students in the western part of town should be allowed the opportunity to participate in this valuable program with fewer obstacles. Such a relocation would also preserve the funding that currently supports academic achievement for all students at Lowell Elementary School. In addition, it would open six additional classrooms at Lowell for resident students.
The district has very difficult decisions to make regarding redistricting and the balancing of student populations. That is clear. I sincerely hope the discussions continue with the relocation of Missabekong off the table.
Diana Lawrey is a teacher in the Duluth public schools and past program coordinator for the Misaabekong Ojibwe Immersion program. She has worked as an integration specialist since 2013 and as a high school Ojibwe teacher and elementary teacher.