Minnesota Supreme Court allows lawsuit about school segregation

Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota Supreme Court ruling resurrected a lawsuit Wednesday that claims the state violated its constitutional duty to provide Minnesota students with an adequate education by enacting policies that enable school segregation.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2015 by parents of seven children attending Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. It alleges the state contributed to racial and socio-economic segregation, in part through decisions to set school boundaries and exempt charter schools from desegregation plans.

The lawsuit alleges those practices and others put children of color and metro-area children into lower-performing schools, violating their rights.

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The state appeals court tossed the case last year, but the Supreme Court ordered it back to a district court where it can be scheduled for trial. The lawsuit asks the courts to force the Legislature to provide a uniform educational system and adequate education for all students.

The state argued the issue is an issue for lawmakers, not the courts. But the Supreme Court disagreed, saying that while the Legislature is responsible for establishing a public school system, this lawsuit asked the judiciary to decide whether the Legislature violated its constitutional duty.

“It is well within the province of the judiciary to adjudicate claims of constitutional violations,” Justice Natalie Hudson wrote for the majority.

An attorney for the families suing the state, Dan Shulman, said he was thrilled by the decision, which he said was important for Minnesota and many other states that have similar education clauses in their constitutions.

“If the state creates a segregated education system and violates the Minnesota Constitution, courts are equipped and able to determine whether a violation has occurred and order the state to fix it,” he said.

The state Department of Education said in a statement that it was reviewing the ruling and would “continue to prioritize equity as a pillar of our work, and we are committed to ensuring that each student achieves their fullest potential.”

Justice Barry Anderson disagreed with the majority. He wrote that the issues raised in the lawsuit were political questions, and that casting them as constitutional violations doesn’t require or permit the courts to act.

“Indeed, the point of judicial caution and prudence is to preserve the separation of powers among the branches of our government that is enshrined in the Minnesota Constitution,” he wrote, adding that the Legislature constantly re-evaluates educational policies to work toward the goal of providing adequate education for all.

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea joined in the dissent.