The Story Behind the Arrests at Seattle's Horace Mann Building

Nov 20, 2013

Seattle Public Schools will keep working with the groups that were holding classes in the vacant Horace Mann school building, the district said after police arrested four people for trespassing on Tuesday.

District officials said those who set up barricades earlier this month and refused to leave were just a small subset of the group that had been using the building over spring and summer.

"There was a group of people who were very interested in working with us. They were not the people who were in the building. They were not the people who were removed," said Teresa Wippel, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools. 

The district had been working with a coalition of groups who were focused on educating African-American youth and closing the racial achievement gap. The coalition is known by several names, including Africatown and the Coalition 4 Mann.

"We had culturally-enriched programming," said Malakhi Kaine, a Seattle parent and community activist who worked with the groups over the summer. Kaine was one of 12 community members who had also served on the Horace Mann-African American Community Partnerships Task Force. 

"We were engaging the district in trying to come up with different resolutions that could satisfy everybody involved," Kaine said.

Those conversations between the school district and the community groups included a proposal to move their programs to a different location as the district needed to begin renovating the Horace Mann building.

An alternative space for the Mann programs was close to being negotiated. But negotiations broke down Nov. 6., and that's when some activists refused to vacate the building.

In response, the district shut off electricity and water, but a small group of people used a generator and a microwave to camp out inside. Then came the arrests. 

But that won't be the end of the story for the coalition, both the district and the community groups said.

"We’re dealing with 10,000 students roughly in the SPS district proper," said Kaine, referring to the size of the district’s African-American population. 

Wippel said Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda will keep working with the community groups to find ways to address the racial achievement gap.