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Minnesota Court of Appeals rejects tenure challenge again

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Updated: 2:09 p.m. | Posted: 1:07 p.m.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday again rejected a lawsuit alleging that teacher tenure and seniority rights in public schools saddle students of color with ineffective teachers and therefore violate those students' right to an adequate education.

The state Supreme Court last year told the appeals court to reconsider its 2017 dismissal of the lawsuit by four parents in light of a fresh high court ruling in a desegregation lawsuit that expanded the ability of courts to intervene if students are deprived of their right to an adequate education, which is guaranteed under the Minnesota Constitution.

But a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals stood by the earlier decision that the tenure lawsuit should be dismissed. The court concluded that even in light of the Supreme Court's ruling, the lawsuit still failed to establish that tenure and seniority-based layoff protections for teachers violate students' constitutional rights. The appeals court also noted that the California Supreme Court in 2016 let that state's teacher protections stand.

Tiffini Forslund and three other parents of public school students sued Minnesota in 2016, saying the state's teacher tenure and seniority laws made it all but impossible for schools to fire bad teachers. They pointed to the state's persistent achievement gaps for minority and poor children compared with white students from wealthier families. And they said tenure laws that protect ineffective teachers and seniority-based layoff requirements that don't spare good teachers with less experience stood in the way of narrowing those gaps.

They were backed by the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group founded by former CNN and NBC host Campbell Brown, which has been behind similar challenges in New York and New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected a teacher quality lawsuit there in December. The New York case is still pending.

Alissa Bernstein, PEJ's executive director, said the group is disappointed at the Minnesota outcome.

Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, called the lawsuit a misguided attempt "to strip away the protections that allow educators to speak out" on what's happening in their schools without fear of being fired.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2017 modified the state law mandating reliance on seniority when schools cut teachers in the absence of more specific labor contract provisions, but local contracts can still make seniority a determining factor.