The Potluck

Minneapolis school goes remote over encampment concerns

By: - September 15, 2021 2:28 pm

People gather in tents at an encampment in the narrow median and surrounding area along Franklin Avenue near Cedar Avenue Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

A Minneapolis high school has switched to virtual learning and moved some classes off-site because of safety concerns after an encampment sprung up on school property this summer.

Volunteers of America High School, an alternative school of about 85 students near the intersection of East Franklin Avenue and Cedar Avenue, will continue holding virtual and off-site classes until they are “assured of the physical and emotional safety of both students and staff,” said Julie Manworren, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Minnesota and Wisconsin, in a statement to the Reformer.

“For many months, we have been reaching out to law enforcement, city, county and state officials as well as our community partners in the neighborhood, sharing information and making them aware of the needs of our students and staff,” Manworren said. “While we are frustrated by the increasing violence and lawlessness around our school building, we remain hopeful for a shared solution.”

The sprawling encampment first started on a median near East Franklin Avenue and Cedar Avenue before expanding to the nearby light rail underpass and down Cedar toward Minnehaha Avenue. It’s become increasingly worrisome to leaders of nearby social services organizations, who describe it as a hotspot for drug use and trafficking by people seeking to exploit homeless residents. Several people have overdosed there or been hit by cars. 

“We acknowledge that there is not an easy solution to meeting the needs of the people who are encamped on the grounds of the school and nearby neighborhood. Life in an encampment is dangerous and full of misery,” Manworren said. “At the same time, we cannot accept that this dangerous situation is tolerable for anyone involved – least of all our students and teachers.”

Joe Hobot, president and CEO of the nearby American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center, and Marisa Cummings, president and CEO of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, told the Reformer last week that the city tells them to take their concerns to the county — which owns the median off Franklin Avenue — and the county refers them back to the city. Minneapolis police seem reluctant to intervene, they said.

“It’s untenable,” Hobot said. “It’s a little pocket of lawlessness.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement to the Reformer he’s working closely with Hennepin County, Metro Urban Indian Directors and the community “to identify safer options for those presently at the encampment at Franklin and Cedar.”

Many VOA High School students have overcome adversity to continue their education, Manworren said. Alternative schools like VOA are “designed for students who are at-risk” or “experiencing difficulty in the traditional (education) system,” according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

“One of them may, in the future, solve the intractable problems that contribute to people living in an encampment,” Manworren said.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.