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Star Tribune writers tracking education issues

Plaintiffs file appeal disputing Minnesota's teacher tenure laws

Four plaintiffs filed an appeal Thursday in their fight to challenge Minnesota's teacher tenure laws.

A judge rejected their suit in October but the parents are back to assert that state laws are protecting ineffective teachers and violating students' rights by keeping low-income and minority students from attaining a quality education.

“This lawsuit is about our children, said Roxanne Draughn, mother from St. Paul and a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “And when your child is suffering, as a parent you can’t back down." 

Judge Margaret Marrinan dismissed the suit, filed last Apri on the grounds that no link could be made between academic achievement and due process for teacher tenure laws.

In their appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the state has created a barrier by keeping students from their constitutional right to an adequate education. They indicate that the state has defined its measures on teacher effectiveness to ensure that students receive a quality education.

“It is the courts’ role to ensure that laws do not violate constitutional rights,” Jesse Stewart, attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Education Minnesota released a statement in January when the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal. In the statement, the teacher’s union expressed that the appeal was another attempt to silence teachers.

 “Due process protections are earned by Minnesota teachers after they have passed a lengthy probationary period and have met certain performance expectations,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said. “These laws don’t prevent bad teachers from getting fired. They prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons.”

Osseo school board ties on vote to end racial-equity consultant contract

Osseo Area school board members came to a stalemate vote Tuesday night on deciding the fate of the district’s five-year relationship with a racial-equity consulting group.

Three board members voted to not approve the district’s achievement and integration budget and plan. The district’s revised plan would have reduced its spending on the Pacific Educational Group (PEG) and terminated its contract with the group after the 2017-2018 school year.

Teachers, parents and community members packed into the Osseo School Board meeting room to voice their support of the district’s contract with PEG, which works to lessen racial disparities and narrow the achievement gap through professional development.

Erin Aulik, a first grade teacher at Birch Grove Elementary School for the Arts, was one of several teachers who addressed the board Tuesday.

Aulik averages about two to three white students in her classroom each year. As a white teacher, she said, the trainings have given her the perspective and tools to accommodate her students of color.

“I would not be half the teacher I am today without the professional development I have received from Pacific Educational Group,” she said to the board Tuesday.

At a March 7 work session, the board seemed in agreement that they would approve the revised budget and end their contract with PEG on Tuesday. Board members said PEG has not helped the district, where students of color make up more than half of the enrollment, close its achievement gap and Osseo Area Public Schools could no longer support the cost of PEG’s services.

In 2016-2017, the district contracted with PEG for $152,000. The district had planned on ending its contract with PEG in order to more of its equity work in-house.

“As we reduce our dependence on outside vendors, we are able to dedicate more of the AIM (Achievement and Integration for Minnesota) budget to other areas of our equity work,” Mike Ostaffe, school board member, said Tuesday.

With a tie vote, the district is back to the drawing board on its achievement and integration plan. Board members will now have to review the plan again and ask the Minnesota Department of Education for a second extension on submitting its budget. Board members Jessica Craig, Stephanie Fortner and Jim Burgett voted to not approve the budget on Tuesday.

Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, worked with the board on drafting its first equity plan in November, Kiatamba said the board wanted to end its contract with PEG but offered no alternative on how the district would move ahead with its equity work.

“It does not make sense to transition out of something to nothing,” he said. “They have not created an alternative.”

But, he said, the tie vote demonstrations that the district is willing to listen to the community.