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Minneapolis School Board engaged in unlawful racial discrimination

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Minneapolis School Board engaged in unlawful racial discrimination

by Doug Mann, 20 January 2006 

The Minneapolis School District is mandated by the MN Desegregation Rule to provide "equal educational opportunities," that is, the provision of educational inputs, or resources, to all of its students on a comparable basis without reference to race. (see extracts from the Desegregation Rule, appended).

However, based on an analysis of data accessible at the web site of the MN Department of Education, Michael Atherton estimated that "The correlation between percentages of teachers with more than ten years of experience and of African American students in middle schools is stronger than -0.8. And for elementary and high schools somewhere around -0.5." A perfect negative correlation would be -1.0, no correlation / no change would be a zero correlation, and a perfect positive correlation would be +1.0. - See: "DOUG MANN POSTS: In a fall 2002 SW journal article by Caitlin Pine, the district's" by Michael Atherton, posted 19 January 2006.

Teacher turnover rates and concentrations of the district's least experienced teachers are very high in schools serving neighborhoods where incomes are low and the percentage of students of color is well above average. On the other hand, teacher turnover rates tend to be very low at schools that serve affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods. These disparities are largely an effect of the School Board's annual ritual of laying off teachers who it obviously plans to recall or replace, and of the job bidding system for teachers which tends to segregate newer teachers in schools with high concentrations of poor and 'minority' students.

In the spring of 2004 there were about 1,700 full-time teacher positions in the Minneapolis District's regular and special education programs. Between April 1 and June 30 of 2004 the Board gave lay off notices to a total of 608 teachers employed by the district for up to five full years, including 455 teachers on probationary status (employed less than 3 full years). Over half of all teachers had been employed with the district for more than 10 years.

The high percentage of teachers on probationary status in the spring of 2004 is alarming because in 2002 and 2003 the Minneapolis School Board eliminated more than 20% of the district's teaching positions in regular education programs. This was the combined effect of a big decline in student enrollment and Board action to increase class sizes by about 10% overall.

Teacher turnover in the Minneapolis School District is extremely high because each year the Board lays off many teachers between April 1 and June 30 that it obviously plans to recall or replace by sometime in August or September. In 2004 the Board planned to cut about 150 teacher positions that had not already been vacated, but laid off 608 teachers. In 2005 the board laid off 575 teachers, then called back or replaced the large majority of them.

Per Minnesota's Teacher Tenure Act, one school district may not hire a teacher employed with another district unless the teacher gives notice (resigns) by April 1 or is laid off. And of course, teachers who get a lay off notice are going to look for another job unless they are quite certain that they will be recalled and don't want to change employers.

In my opinion, the practice of laying off teachers who are to be rehired or replaced violates the MN teacher tenure act, which permits a district to lay off teachers only as necessary due to the elimination of teaching positions resulting from declining student enrollment or loss of funding.

And since the practice of laying off teachers who are to be rehired or replaced also has a disparate impact on African American students, it is also a violation of the right of African American students to an education of comparable quality to that received by white students, per Minnesota's desegregation rule, the equal protection clause of the 14 amendment to the US constitution, the federal Civil Rights Act, and federal case law.

In order to get the Minneapolis School District into compliance with the MN Desegregation Rule with respect to differences in teacher qualifications and experience, it will be necessary to modify the bidding system so that teachers with more and less experience are more evenly distributed to all of the district's schools and programs.

If the Board also refrains from laying off teachers it intends to rehire or replace, it will be possible to phase out "low-ability" curriculum tracks for the general student population without watering down the content of college-bound courses currently reserved exclusively for students designated as academically gifted or talented.
Unbeknowst to many, students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are sorted and assigned to separate classrooms for reading instruction as early as Kindergarten according to whether they are labeled as being high, medium, or low-ability learners. Students in the high-ability classroom usually cover more ground at a faster pace than their "low-ability" peers, resulting in a widening gap in this critical academic skill. African American and Native American students have been disproportionately assigned to classrooms for "low-ability" learners.   
The Statement of Need and Reasonableness for rules relating to school desegregation, Rule 3030.0130, subpart 2 (I) (b) states that,

"The State Board's enabling legislation for this rule, Minn. statute 121.11 subd. 7(d) (1996) stated "In adopting a rule related to school desegregation/integration, the state board shall address the need for equal educational opportunities...

"The proposed rules addresses the concept of "equal educational opportunity" in a manner that is consistent with the way in which this term is used in the desegregation context: that is, whether educational inputs, or resources, are being delivered on a comparable basis without reference to race. Given the lack of consensus about the definition [of "equal educational opportunity] and the variability of meaning from context to context, this is a reasonable approach to the mandate of the original enabling legislation" - page 41, Statement of Need and Reasonableness In the Matter of the Proposed Rules Relating to Desegregation, chapter 3535 (3535.0100 to 3535.0180)

The MN Desegregation Rule (Rule 3535) states that "...the commissioner shall request and the district shall provide the following information...[including] E. a list that shows how the qualifications and experience of the teachers at the racially identifiable school compares to teachers at sites which are not racially identifiable."
Pages 37-38, Rule 3535.0130, Subpart 2, E.

Rule 3535.0130, subpart 2 (a): "Collecting this data is reasonable because these factors are based on federal case law." The statement of need and reasonableness for the Rule notes that in Green v. New Kent County School Board (1968)...the US Supreme Court articulated six factors courts should analyze in determining whether schools are racially identifiable as a result of intentional discrimination...composition of the student body; extracurricular activities; faculty; staff; facilities; and transportation..." Note 5, page 40: "Information on qualifications and experience of teachers: See Freeman v. Pitts, supra, and the rationale under "b" below [Cited above, Rule 3030.0130, subpart 2 (I) (b)]; United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 837 F.2d 1181, 1199-1200 (2d Cir. 1987)