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Minn. Supreme Court to hear teacher union protections case

ST. PAUL—The Minnesota Supreme Court will decide if a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's teachers union protections should move forward.

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it had agreed to hear the case brought by Tiffini Flynn Forslund and three other Minnesota parents. Forslund's case, filed in April 2016, was dismissed by the Ramsey County District Court and that decision was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Forslund's lawsuit alleges Minnesota's system of seniority-based layoffs and union protections for teachers are an important factor in the state's academic achievement gap between students of color and their white classmates. The lawsuit claims these rules result in many minority students attending failing schools with bad teachers.

The case is supported by the Partnership for Education Justice and the Minnesota chapter of Students for Education Reform. Similar cases have been filed in New York and New Jersey and have so far been unsuccessful.

"When students' rights are violated, we count on the courts to protect our children," Alissa Bernstein, executive director, of Partnership for Educational Justice, said in a statement praising the ruling. "We are gratified that the Minnesota Supreme Court recognizes the importance of this case and is engaging in the issues raised by the Forslund plaintiffs."

State leaders named in the lawsuit have rejected Forslund's claims and have said the issues raised in the case should be addressed by the Legislature not the courts. So far, judges have agreed with that argument using it as a key basis for dismissing the case.

Denise Specht, president of state teachers union Education Minnesota, called the lawsuit part of a national campaign to mislead the public about teacher tenure.

"These laws prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons," Specht said. "They protect teachers who speak out about the learning conditions in their schools, or for advocating for their students on the margins. Simply put, they let teachers tell parents what they need to know about their schools."

The state Legislature has made minor changes to teachers union rules since the Forslund case was filed. In May, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed an education budget that included a requirement that school districts and their teachers unions develop a local plan for when they cut staff.

Local layoff plans were optional until the law change and many districts used the state's fallback plan that relies mainly on seniority, or essential how long a teacher has been on the job.

In 2012, Dayton vetoed legislation passed by the Republican-led Legislature that eliminated seniority-based layoffs, also known as "Last In, First Out," or LIFO.

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