Teaching Profession

Minn. Teacher Tenure Lawsuit Revived

By Emmanuel Felton — January 17, 2017 1 min read
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The Minnesota parents behind a lawsuit against that state’s teacher tenure laws have announced they will appeal an October trial court decision to throw out their case, reports the Star Tribune.

As in the high profile Vergara case in California—in which the California Supreme Court ultimately ruled against parents seeking to upend teacher tenure protections—the plaintiffs in the Minnesota case are arguing that the state’s tenure apparatus, particularly requirements that teachers are laid off based on seniority, makes it next to impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers.

But Denise Specht, the president of the state teachers’ union, said tenure laws aren’t just for the benefit of teachers but also students and parents as they allow educators to speak up when schools wrong children.

“These laws don’t prevent bad teachers from getting fired, they prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons,” Specht said in a statement. “Tenure laws protect teachers who speak out about the learning conditions in their schools. They are what assure parents they are getting the real story at conferences, or PTA meetings, or when they read an interview with a teacher in the newspaper. These laws are the teachers’ First Amendment.”

Like in similar cases, the Minnesota parents are arguing that ineffective educators disproportionally hurt poor and minority students and they conclude that tenure is contributing to the state’s wide racial achievement gaps. But Ramsey County District Court Judge Margaret Marrinan ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently prove the connection. Echoing the California courts, Marrinan concludes that teacher tenure would best be hashed out in the legislature instead of in the judiciary.

The lawsuit is being backed by the Partnership for Educational Justice, a New York-based nonprofit that has sponsored similar tenure lawsuits in New York and New Jersey. The group was founded by former American television news anchor Campbell Brown, who is close friends with Betsy DeVos, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education.

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