Parents’ lawsuit threatens Education Minnesota’s grip on schools

Are Education Minnesota’s union rules protecting incompetent classroom teachers a key factor in the state’s appalling achievement gap for poor and minority students?

That’s the gist of a lawsuit being brought by four families today in Ramsey County District Court. The action would eliminate controversial teacher tenure rules that that prevent schools from controlling hiring and firing, while protecing incompetent teachers.

It’s a dagger at the heart of a system that has failed underprivileged children and rewarded the status quo.Dayton on floor

Four parents from the St. Paul, Duluth, Anoka-Hennepin and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan districts filed the lawsuit in April saying teacher tenure and staff cuts based primarily on seniority are unconstitutional and create ineffective schools for low-income students and students of color. The case is supported by the local chapter of Students for Education Reform and a national group called the Partnership for Educational Justice.

Tiffini Flynn Forslund, whose children attend Anoka-Hennepin schools, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s teachers union protections. (Pioneer Press: Christopher Magan)

“The current system has been in place for many, many years and I don’t see it is working,” said Tiffini Flynn Forslund, the lead plaintiff in the case whose children attend Anoka-Hennepin schools. “I see this as a way to create change for a different process.”

The lawsuit claims Gov. Mark Dayton, state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and local school officials perpetuate policies that deprive children of the “fundamental right to a uniform and thorough education as a result of being assigned to a chronically ineffective teacher.”

The case is the biggest threat to the state’s most powerful union since legislation prohibiting teacher cuts based on seniority was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012. The Pioneer Press reports Education Minnesota and its allies in the Minnesota Department of Education and big city public school districts have a lot riding on the outcome.

State and local leaders want Judge Margaret M. Marrinan to dismiss the case, saying the lawsuit is an attempt to change long-standing state laws through the court system rather than the Legislature.

“Plaintiffs’ pithy and dismissive rhetoric aside, the actual allegations in the (lawsuit) are nothing but an attempt by a handful of parents to get a court to do what the Legislature would not do,” attorneys for the St. Paul Public Schools wrote recently in a legal brief supporting the dismissal request.

Similar legal challenges to union rules protecting teachers at the expense of students and taxpayers are underway in California and New York.