With a major settlement due to inaction by the legislature, plaintiffs in the Cruz-Guzman school desegregation lawsuit have asked a judge to decide the case in their favor.
Plaintiff’s attorney Dan Schulman wants the judge to find that the state violated the education clause of the Minnesota Constitution by enabling racial and socioeconomic segregation in the Minneapolis and St.
Shulman has suggested that the government may be responsible for the demographic imbalance in schools, such as through enacting open enrollment laws, exempting charter schools from integration rules, and through the Department of Education’s soft stance against intentionally segregating districts.
But he believes that enrollment numbers alone may offer enough evidence to win a partial summary judgment and force changes in school enrollment across the metro area.
A 2015 lawsuit claims that separate schools in Minnesota are preventing Twin Cities-area students of color from receiving the adequate education provided under the state’s constitution.
Plaintiff’s lawyer: ‘Separate’ system violates the Constitution
When the Minnesota Supreme Court revived the lawsuit in 2018, it wrote in a footnote that “it is self-evident that a separate system of public schools is not ‘normal,’ ‘uniform,’ ‘thoroughly,’ or ‘efficient. “
In short, if the school system is dismantled, students may not receive an adequate education guaranteed by the Constitution. Shulman argues that as long as the judges agree that schools have been segregated, regardless of the reason or whether it was intentional or not, changes should be made to correct it.
“Needless to say something other than the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts, which are separated by race and socioeconomic status,” Shulman summarized the court. “…tolerating its existence by the legislature violates the education clause.”
Speaking for the state during a hearing on a motion Monday, Deputy Attorney General Katherine Woodruff said the mere fact that some schools in the districts have more students of color than others doesn’t mean they’re under the law. are breaking.
“No court in Minnesota has ever held that the state must guarantee a particular mix of students in a school,” she said. “Is the system right? No, most would say there is room to do more, while disagreeing about what should be more. That’s not the issue here, though.”
A major issue at the hearing was how to define school segregation.
Shulman suggests that judges start by looking at the state education department’s segregation program, which defines a “racially identifiable school” where the share of students in protected classes is 20 percent higher than the average in the same district.
He said the Minneapolis district, which is 63 percent non-white, has 23 such schools. The St. Paul District, which is 79 percent non-white, has one.
Woodruff said that Schulman’s definition shows only racial imbalance, not legal segregation. He pointed to the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, a case where school segregation was clearly intentional, and therefore unconstitutional.
“You can’t just look at the mix (of students) and say done,” she said.
Jack Perry, attorney for the two charter schools that intervened in the case, said the finding of secession alone is not enough for the judge to rule in favor of the plaintiffs at this stage.
He pointed to a more recent state Supreme Court ruling—the Forslund case that sought to reduce teacher tenure—in which judges held that tenure rules must be shown to result in insufficient education to be found unconstitutional; Similarly, the Cruz-Guzman plaintiff must prove that school segregation results in students receiving inadequate education, he said.
good school bad school
At the end of Monday’s hearing, Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner shared her concern about the idea — promoted by Schulman and accepted by the deputy attorney general — that intentionally segregating schools is essentially unconstitutional.
Hypothetically, she said, an Afrocentric, culturally affirming charter school that enrolls all black students and produces “great” academic results would be unconstitutional, while a second school that unintentionally only enrolled black students would be unconstitutional. Enrolls and performs “awesome”, is legit.
“One of my reactions as an interested observer to this hypothetical is, gee whiz, I feel like, was our education segment designed to result?” he said. “…I’m struggling with the distinction you’re making.”
Shulman responded with his own hypothetical of a school that only accepts white nationalist students and posted great scores.
“Is there any question among anyone here whether this would not violate the education clause? Of course it will be,” he said. “The so-called quality of education becomes irrelevant when you deal with segregation.”
Robiner gave no timeline for when she would rule on the proposal.
Upon objections from the intervening charter schools, the plaintiffs and defendants reached an agreement in the case in the spring.
Attorney General Keith Ellison warned lawmakers that a trial would cost about $10 million and that any changes to the way Minnesota’s K-12 students are enrolled could be in the hands of a judge. Nevertheless, the agreement did not receive any serious consideration from lawmakers, only an informational hearing was held at the end of the legislative session.
The deal may be processed in the next legislative session, or if Robiner rejects Schulman’s motion for a partial summary decision, the case may proceed to a hearing.
The settlement package, at a cost of $63 million per year, was:
- replace the state achievement and integration program with a new one that also requires integrating charter schools
- Create a seven-county busing program to bring students from disadvantaged neighborhoods to schools in wealthier areas and vice versa
- Set up four new integrated magnet schools in the Twin Cities
- And force the state to strengthen its school-quality dashboards and share strategies to improve outcomes for students who have historically been underserved.