Conservative foundation Judicial Watch is suing Minneapolis Public Schools on behalf of a community taxpayer over part of the district's 2021-2023 agreement with its teacher union that is meant to protect minority teachers from seniority firing practices.
The contract gives the district the ability to exempt teachers of color from seniority-based staff reductions, if laying off or reassigning "the teacher would prevent students at the site from having access to educators of color and/or educators who reflect the diversity of enrolled students," according to the district's bargaining proposal in spring 2022. The district said in its proposal that it "recognizes critical disparities between student demographics and licensed educators."
In the 2020-21 school year, Minneapolis Public Schools had 38% White American students and 36% African American students. By contrast, the system employed 72.4% White American licensed educators and only 6% African American licensed educators. "These disparities are often more pronounced in specific sites," the district's contract proposal said.
The district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers came to an agreement in March 2022 after a multi-week strike, according to a spokesperson for the MFT. The school board ratified the agreement on May 10.
Now, the lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Judicial Watch on behalf of a community taxpayer, claims the agreement violates the rights of teachers who are not in minority groups. It claims the protections offer "privileges for certain public school teachers on the basis of race and ethnicity."
"It is incredible that in this day and age, a school system would engage in blatant racial discrimination in employing teachers,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
MPS' general counsel did not respond to K-12 Dive's request for comment. However, the district’s superintendent, on March 25 following the agreement with the union, said the administration has had a "focus and a priority to create a contract that allows us to recruit and retain and prioritize our educators of color."
"That was one of the most significant priorities that we talked about all through the negotiation process," said Ed Graff, who was superintendent of MPS at the time, in a news conference. Graff left the district at the end of June, before the start of the 2022-23 school year.
The teachers union, while not sued in the action, said in an email it "regret[s] to see Minneapolis Public Schools will be forced to divert time and resources away from the real crisis — fully staffing our schools with teachers and other educators so that MPS may provide the world-class education our students deserve.”
Learning from a teacher of color can lead to higher academic performance, better attendance, higher graduation rates, and improved social and emotional benefits for students of color, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, a national education research nonprofit. White students also benefit from being taught by teachers of color, including having lower likelihoods of discipline when having a Black teacher, the report found.
"In demonstrating the positive perceptions students have of teachers of color, these studies suggest that all students can benefit from a more diverse teacher workforce," the report said.