Minnesota Sued Over Tenure, Ineffective Teachers

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Minnesota has laws in place that protect teachers — even those who should not be in the classroom at all. This protection policy means that students may not be getting a high-quality education, according to a lawsuit filed last week by education reform groups both local and national.

The Star Tribune's Alejandra Matos reports that the suit is only the third of its type in the US and could fuel contention over union protections for the teachers of Minnesota.

"When we look throughout the country at places where there are harmful teacher employment statutes and significant achievement gaps, Minnesota was one of the first states that popped up as a place that could use this kind of help," said Ralia Polechronis, executive director of Partnership for Educational Justice.

The court action is similar to cases in New York and California that have impacted unions in both states. The suit will be filed against the State of Minnesota in Ramsey County District Court.

The problem, say the plaintiffs, is that state laws like the Teacher Tenure Act award protection to teachers from being laid-off once they have completed three years of their contracts. But this type of measure also requires extensive processes before a teacher can be fired and sets up a procedure in which teachers without seniority are fired before teachers who are tenured with no regard to their classroom performance. This system is known as ‘Last in, First Out.'

The suit, brought by four mothers from Minneapolis, Duluth, and St. Paul, seeks to have tenure and dismissal state laws ruled unconstitutional. The moms say the laws infringe upon the Minnesota constitutional guarantee to a "thorough and efficient" education.

The case is being funded by the Partnership for Education Justice, an advocacy group based in New York that gets a majority of its funding from the Walton Family Foundations and Eli Broad, a Los Angeles billionaire. Students for Education Reform, which also receives support from Broad and the Waltons, is backing the suit as well, writes Motoko Rich of The New York Times.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said:

"Lawsuits like this stymie the real work that this lawsuit says it wants to do: growing and nurturing a great teaching force, That happens by recruiting, mentoring, supporting and retaining teachers, not firing them."

She added that without workplace protections, at-risk students would be hurt rather than helped. Currently there is a teacher shortage in the US, and tenure advocates say this is one of a very few incentives public school districts can offer when recruiting or attempting to keep educators.

The lawsuit names the state, Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Education Department, and its commissioner as defendants.

Solveig Wastvedt, reporting for Minnesota Public Radio News, explains that the group of mothers says in the suit that ineffective teachers are the most likely instructors to be assigned to schools with large numbers of students of color and those from low-income families.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said that the laws in place currently "protect due process for teachers," which can still provide those with authority to remove teachers who are not performing up to par.

State teachers union President Denise Specht said the laws in no way protect teachers who are inadequate.

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