An education foundation based in Washington, D.C., has brought a lawsuit against Minneapolis Public Schools, alleging that the district's latest teacher contract provides discriminatory protections to racial minorities.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by the conservative Judicial Watch, names interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox, the district and the Minneapolis board of education as defendants. Deborah Jane Clapp, identified as a Minneapolis taxpayer, is the plaintiff.
The agreement that ended the three-week teachers strike in March includes contract language that upends last-in, first-out hiring practices as a way to retain "members of populations underrepresented among licensed teachers." Those protections go into effect this spring and aim to help the district diversify its teaching staff to more closely match the demographics of the students it serves.
The lawsuit calls for a ruling to declare such "racial and ethnic preference" provisions — and the use of taxpayer dollars to implement them — illegal.
A spokeswoman with Minneapolis Public Schools said she could not comment on pending litigation. Lawyers for Clapp, the named plaintiff, declined to make her available for an interview.
"The issue is important because this is a brazen attack on Minnesota's equal protection guarantees," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "This contract provision is designed specifically to benefit specific races at the expense of others, and it's strictly forbidden in employment."
Minneapolis is one of the only school districts in the country with such seniority-disrupting contract language, district and union leaders have said. Though the teacher contract was approved this spring, the protections for teachers of color have gained national attention in recent weeks as conservative media outlets declared the policy unconstitutional and racist.
The goal of the provision, district and union leaders say, is to develop a teaching staff that better reflects the district, where more than 60% of those enrolled are students of color. Last school year, people of color made up about 16% of the Minneapolis Public Schools' tenured teachers and about 27% of its probationary teachers.
Learning from a teacher of color can lead to higher academic performance, better attendance and higher graduation rates among students in that demographic, according to a report by the national education research nonprofit, the Learning Policy Institute.
That's why districts like Minneapolis work to recruit a diverse teaching staff, district leaders have said, but those efforts can be diminished by last-in, first-out policies meant to safeguard more senior teachers, a higher percentage of whom are white.
The seniority-disrupting language is a part of a section of the union contract that includes other anti-racism and anti-bias provisions like a mentorship program for educators of color. According to the contract, the protections are an effort "to remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination by the district" and will no longer be in effect once the district's teachers represent the diversity of the labor market and the Minneapolis community.
Greta Callahan, teacher chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said in an emailed statement that the union "continues to fight for policies that retain the skills and experiences that are underrepresented in our union, including the skills and experiences our teachers of color bring to their classrooms every day."
Though the union was not named as a defendant, Callahan wrote that the union regrets that the district will have to use resources contesting the lawsuit.
One other Minnesota district has contract language that also attempts to help retain teachers of color.
In Robbinsdale Area Schools, an agreement between the district and union offers protections for probationary teachers (those with fewer than three years of experience) beyond the last-in, first-out order if they better reflect student demographics.
The contract provision in Minneapolis is similar to language recommended by Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, which has repeatedly named efforts to recruit and retain educators of color as a priority.
The case has been assigned to District Judge Christian Sande.