Ramsey County judge dismisses teacher tenure suit

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

 

A lawsuit led by an Anoka-Hennepin parent against the school district and a number of other parties was dismissed by a Ramsey County District Court judge Oct. 26.

The suit, initially filed in April, challenged tenure laws in the state, arguing that they protect ineffective teachers and contribute to the achievement gap, stripping low-income and minority students of their right to a “uniform” and “thorough” education.

Along with the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Education, the state of Minnesota and five other school districts were listed as defendants.

On the plaintiff side, Anoka-Hennepin parent Tiffini Flynn Forslund was joined by three parents of students attending other school districts in the state.

Judge Margaret Marrinan dismissed the case because it failed to link poor academic performance to tenure laws.

In Anoka-Hennepin specifically, the complaint alleges Forslund’s 17-year-old daughter “has been assigned to or is at risk of being assigned to an ineffective teacher,” but never explicitly states that she is taught by an ineffective teacher or will be in the immediate future. Furthermore, comparisons of two elementary schools – Andover Elementary School in Andover and Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School in Brooklyn Center – fail to relate to Forslund’s daughter, who is not attending elementary school in the district, according to the order by Marrinan.

“I think it’s safe to say that the district is very pleased with the judge’s order,” said Jeanette Bazis, the attorney representing Anoka-Hennepin in this matter.
Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota President LeMoyne Corgard is also pleased with the ruling, he said.

“We never felt their case had a lot of validity,” he said. “I’m glad the court obviously ruled in education’s favor.”

Tenure provisions don’t hurt students, they help them, according to Corgard.

“When we have protections … it allows us to give our voices to student issues” without fear of retaliation, he said.

In her order, Marrinan went on to say that tenure laws should be addressed by the Legislature, not the court.

“Plaintiffs’ concerns in this case relate to the wisdom of legislative policy,” Marrinan wrote. “Almost 140 years of state case law stands for the proposition that the appropriate avenue to address that policy is through the legislative process rather than the courts.”

The plaintiffs are preparing to appeal, according to a statement from Ralia Polechronis, executive director of the Parnership for Educational Justice, one of the organizations supporting the four plaintiffs.

“While the Minnesota courts have considered and ruled on many education cases in the past, this is the first time that they have been asked by parents to consider the constitutionality of teacher employment statutes,” Polechronis said in a statement. “Under these circumstances, it’s no surprise that the battle for students’ rights will be hard fought.”

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