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Minnesota appeals court blocks lawsuit over teacher tenure, again

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ST PAUL -- Minnesota’s courts can decide if students are deprived of their right to an adequate education, but a group of parents arguing teacher union protections hurt their children’s chances of attending a good school lack evidence.

That’s the essence of a ruling from a Minnesota Court of Appeals panel released Tuesday, Jan. 22, in a lawsuit against the state that claims teacher union protections like tenure and seniority-based layoffs deprive students of an equal and adequate education.

The appeals panel upheld a lower court decision to dismiss the case, agreeing that the parents group did not show how teacher union protections resulted in students receiving ineffective teachers. Their case also did not provide evidence that students of color were more likely to have bad teachers because of the union rules.

Alissa Bernstein, executive director of Partnership for Educational Justice, which supported the lawsuit, called the decision disappointing.

“We are proud to support the brave mothers who have nevertheless persisted in their pursuit for educational justice that asks the state to deliver on its promise of an adequate education for all children in Minnesota,” Bernstein said.

This isn’t the first time the Court of Appeals considered the case, which was brought by Tiffini Forslund and three other parents and also received the support of the local chapter of Students for Education Reform. The case was filed in 2016, and similar actions are pending in New York and New Jersey.

Earlier, the appeals court upheld a decision to dismiss the case after defendants argued the question of whether teacher union protections result in unequal education opportunities was best left up to the state Legislature.

But the Minnesota Supreme Court later ruled, in another case alleging state policies lead to segregated schools, that it was OK for courts to decide if the Legislature was upholding its duty of providing a fair and equitable education.

The segregation case, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota, was sent back to a lower court after the state Supreme Court decided it could proceed. Justices also sent the Forslund case back for reconsideration.

Tuesday’s ruling is a win for the teachers union Education Minnesota and state leaders who argued against the Forslund case. They have argued that state laws provide school leaders plenty of flexibility when making decisions about staffing.

“This is a misguided lawsuit brought without compelling evidence, backed by some the wealthiest people in America, with the intent to strip away the protections that allow educators to speak out about what’s happening in our schools without fear of being fired or laid off,” said Denise Specht, Education Minnesota president.

Under Gov. Mark Dayton, state lawmakers created a system for evaluating teacher performance and helping educators improve. They’ve also removed seniority-based layoffs as the default policy in state law.

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