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Judge tosses suit challenging Minn. teacher tenure rules

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A Ramsey County judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Minnesota teacher tenure laws.

The suit was filed this summer by a group of parents who charged the laws protected ineffective teachers from layoffs. The parents said the rules contributed to the achievement gap because bad teachers are concentrated in schools with larger populations of students of color. 

Judge Margaret Marrinan said parents failed to identify traits that made teachers ineffective, or show how these teachers adversely impacted their children and along with other shortcomings.  The judge also said that no court has "recognized a right to notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding hiring, firing and lay-off issues, or the assignment of effective or ineffective teachers. That is because the number of students affected by a school district's employment decision would be significant." 

The state's teachers' union said in a statement that tenure rules give teachers due process against "arbitrary firing."   Education Minnesota President Denise Specht wants the conversation to turn to the challenges districts face  — from teacher recruitment shortfalls to poor retention rates to a lack of professional development. 

"My hope is we can work with parents, and schools and community members on solving those problems because taking a look at the way teachers are being laid off is simply not getting to the crisis that we're facing in Minnesota," Specht said, adding that recruitment of teachers of color also is insufficient and needs to be addressed.

The plaintiffs were four parents with five students enrolled in Minnesota schools. One of the parents, Tiffini Forslund, told MPR News several months ago she started getting angry about tenure laws when her child was in fifth grade. Her daughter had a fantastic teacher, she said, who kept students engaged. But he was fired by the Anoka-Hennepin School District at the end of the school year, which Forslund blamed on lack of seniority.