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Teaching Profession

Could Minnesota Be Next for a Vergara-Style Lawsuit?

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 21, 2014 1 min read

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an interesting interview with Marcellus McRae, one of the lawyers representing plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California lawsuit. In it, he suggests that the state could be ripe for a similar challenge.

In the California suit, a state superior court judge agreed that the confluence of state laws governing tenure-granting, layoffs, and dismissals violated poor and disadvantaged students’ rights to a quality education.

Here are three things that stood out to me about the interview.

• One of the challenges in trying to export the Vergara ideas elsewhere is that the California suit was a challenge under the state constitution, and states have quite different educational guarantees. Vergara hinged in part on an equal-protection clause, but not all states have similar language. (New York’s constitution does not reference educational equity, and so the lawsuits attacking due process there look a little different.) Minnesota’s constitution, McRae said, does include an equal-protection clause.

• The Star Tribune recently did a story showing that teachers deemed ineffective on the city’s teacher-evaluation system were more likely to be located in poor and minority schools. Although there are important debates about what those findings mean, the phenomenon would certainly seem to help the plaintiffs’ case if indeed a suit is brought.

• In the California judge’s ruling, the timeline for granting tenure clearly was a factor, because he made specific mention of 18 months not being enough time. Three years, the standard length of time of a teacher’s probationary period in Minnesota, is quite a bit longer—and McRae suggested that any legal argument there might hinge on the evidence, or lack thereof, showing teachers are effective when they’re granted tenure.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.