Tonicia Abdur Salaam, right, head of JJ Legacy School, speaks during a protest in the parking lot of Our Lady of Victory Church on Sunday, July 7, 2023. Credit: Nicole Ki | MPR News

This story comes to you from MPR News through a partnership with Sahan Journal.

The futures of a north Minneapolis school and church are uncertain after a rental dispute led to the school being evicted and the church financially strapped. 

Legacy of Dr. Josie R. Johnson Montessori School, or JJ Legacy School, had been housed in a school building owned by Our Lady of Victory Church and received an eviction notice about two weeks ago. The school represents around 140 students from toddlers to sixth graders, who are mostly Black. 

On Sunday morning, students, teachers, and families stood in the parking lot of the parish to protest the eviction. They spoke about ongoing maintenance issues and poor conditions in the building that have led to roof leaks and a discovery of asbestos in one of the classrooms. One teacher said the problems also include a shortage of bathrooms. 

“To be broken down to one restroom for the whole building, to have the students’ restrooms look like this and be in disrepair for what should be a five to 10 minute restroom break turns into 30 minutes to get everybody in and out… it definitely affects morale and a lot of different parts,” said Olutimilehin Olusanya, fifth and sixth grade teacher at the school.

Tonicia Abdur Salaam, head of JJ Legacy, said the school was given a six-day notice to leave the church’s property by July 6. She is hoping the school is given until August to move out and relocate.

“Right now we are working on getting a new building, we’ve had quite a few community members reach out to us and we’re kind of talking through with some of the various entities to see what is going to be the best space for us and conducive for the children and their learning,” said Abdur Salaam. 

In a statement about the eviction issue, the Reverend Michael Tix, parochial administrator, said the school hasn’t paid rent since May 2022 and owes a total of $175,000. 

“Given the failure to pay past due rent, the parish had to seek an emergency line of credit to address the most urgent maintenance issues regardless of who was actually responsible,” Tix said. “The present situation is unsustainable.”

Tix also wrote the parish cannot continue operations without the income from a tenant in the school. They plan to suspend mass services by September 1. 

JJ Legacy board chair Crown Shepherd said the school was unable to get assistance to pay rent because the church did not complete the required building inspections. The school is raising funds to assist in the relocation effort.