Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
The employment status of popular Minneapolis Principal Mauri Friestleben has ignited a spirited community campaign to keep her on the job at North High School, with many questions left unanswered by district officials.
At a Monday news conference outside Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters, representatives of the Minneapolis NAACP, North High students and community members called her a caring, compassionate educator who has earned their trust and respect. She had been placed on leave, then reinstated until the end of the school year by MPS leaders.
Friestleben's supporters rightly asked why the leave came more than four months after she allegedly violated district policy by joining students in a protest. In a message she posted on social media last week, Friestleben said district officials told her not to accompany some North students to City Hall to protest the Minneapolis police shooting of Amir Locke in February, but she did so anyway.
"I will not hold anyone other than myself accountable for this outcome and ask others to do the same," Friestleben wrote.
The situation has raised numerous questions that MPS officials have so far not answered. District leaders should be more publicly forthcoming.
A Friday statement from MPS said Friestleben was being placed on leave, effective May 23. Then two days later, the district reversed its decision and said Friestleben would remain on the job through the end of the school year. The Sunday statement added that she had not been fired, but if "Principal Friestleben chooses to end her employment with MPS, her decision will be respected, and her leadership will be missed."
A Sunday letter from MPS Superintendent Ed Graff to the North High community said that Friestleben would continue working "in an effort to bring this school year to a successful close for North students. We apologize for the difficulty this situation has caused the North community — and especially our Polar students. Principal Friestleben will be welcoming students again at North on Monday."
The way this unfolded raises multiple questions. Among them: What is the MPS policy on students leaving campus during the school day? MPS officials wouldn't share the policy with an editorial writer despite repeated requests. And if the principal violated a rule, why did it take so long to take action? And is this type of infraction — encouraging students to speak out and being present when they do — such a severe offense that it could cost a principal her job? Would a suspension be more appropriate?
Further complicating the matter is the tragic fact that 15-year-old student Deshaun Hill was shot and killed after he left school the day of the protest.
Those who want Friestleben to remain on the job cite how well she connects with students and staff. They also support her effort to encourage peaceful protest and stand with students. One might even say that the principal was engaging in the kind of "good trouble" that the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis was known for — speaking out against laws or practices that are unjust, discriminatory or racist.
At the same time, school staff must be conscientious about students' whereabouts during school hours and follow rules requiring parental permission for off-campus activities.
Principal Friestleben's case is a difficult one. While sorting it out, MPS officials should be more transparent with the public — especially the students and families at North High School.