Court of Appeals hears teacher tenure case

Court of Appeals hears teacher tenure case

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals took arguments on a lawsuit that challenges the state's teacher tenure rules.

It's a case that has attracted national attention, and big name donors.

The plaintiffs are backed by several groups, including the Partnership for Education Justice, which relies on funding from the Walton Family -- the founders of Wal-mart -- and billionaire Eli Broad.

Teachers unions have also filed friends-of-the-court briefs supporting the State.

The Minnesota Judicial Center, home of the Court of Appeals, is the latest stage in the battle over teacher tenure laws.

"The legislature has set up standards for effectiveness in teaching, and there are many teachers who don't meet those standards," said James Swanson, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was brought last year by Tiffini Forslund and three other parents because young teachers at their schools were laid off due to seniority rules during a budget crunch in 2015.

James Swanson is the New Orleans attorney hired by national groups backing the cause.

"One of the big questions here is whether this is something for the courts or something for the legislature," Swanson said.

Assistant Attorney General Alethea Huyser, arguing on behalf of the State, told the court only the legislature can set standards and due process rules for public school teachers, and that the courts have long recognized that..
But the courts have intervened in the past when schools were inadequately funded..

"You don't have to make up policy one, and apply what's on the books already, and make a decision like any court does," Swanson said.

The State also argues the parents who brought the suit lack standing because their children no longer have the same teachers, so legally, they're no longer suffering ongoing harm.

"That doesn't mean you can't review this case, in my view," Swanson said.

Education Minnesota president Denise Specht, said Wednesday, "The system of due process protections for teachers has been upheld by many Minnesota courts over many decades and we're confident this court will reach the same conclusions." 

A Ramsey County judge ruled against the families, so the appeals court was asked Wednesday to send it back to that court to reconsider.

One of the things the lawsuit set out to accomplish -- getting rid of the last-in, first-out seniority system for teacher layoffs -- has already been changed by the legislature, starting in 2019.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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