School segregation lawsuit dismissed by appeals court

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has dismissed a class-action lawsuit that alleged the state was providing minority children in the Twin Cities with an inadequate education by allowing them to attend schools segregated by race and socioeconomic status.

The three-judge panel held the case presents a question of whether the plaintiffs are receiving education of a certain quality. The court said it’s the Legislature’s, not the judicial branch’s, responsibility to make those qualitative standards.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs filed in a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court the day after the ruling. They said the “vast majority” of courts in other cases have made decisions regarding the adequacy of a state’s education.

“Courts all over the country have done just what this court of appeals thinks this court can’t do,” said Dan Shulman, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The appeals panel said the respondents did not make a traditional segregation claim based on racial discrimination, something on which it said a court could rule. It said the court would have to define “adequate” and the qualitative standard to determine whether the state has violated its “purported constitutional duty” to provide an adequate education.

“Such a determination rests in educational policy and is entrusted to the legislature, and not the judicial branch,” the panel wrote.

In the petition to the state Supreme Court, attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote that the decision “either ignores or misreads” the allegations of segregation and discrimination on the basis of race and socioeconomic status. The attorneys cite more than 30 cases in which they say courts have had no difficulty in determining whether children are being adequately educated.

They argued that a 1993 Supreme Court decision, Skeen v. State of Minnesota, implicitly reached the conclusion that students have a fundamental right to an adequate education. The court in the Skeen case ruled that students have a “fundamental right to general and uniform system of public education.”

The attorneys argue that the appeals court’s decisions means that Minnesota courts will no longer have jurisdiction to hear school desegregation cases under the state constitution.

“In effect, the Decision overrules not only Skeen but also Brown v. Board of Education in Minnesota state courts,” they wrote.

The lawsuit, filed in November 2015, said minority students attend schools disproportionately comprised of students color and students living in poverty. It said such schools are not equal to neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools.

The segregation has been the result of boundary decisions by Minneapolis Public Schools, open-enrollment policies and charter school proliferation, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said an educational environment with a high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status “depresses” educational opportunities and advancement for minority students.

“A segregated education is per se an inadequate education under the Education Clause of the Minnesota State Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the state has known for some time of these patterns of segregation but has not acted to remedy them.

Attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven parents in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts and the Minneapolis-based nonprofit One Family One Community. They sought for the courts to order the state to desegregate schools and provide students an adequate education, Shulman said.

A Hennepin County judge denied the defendant’s request to throw out the case this past year.

Shulman and his team were behind the 1990s lawsuits that led to the creation of “The Choice is Yours” program that allows low-income Minneapolis families to attend suburban schools. The students may be eligible for transportation to and from school, according to the Minneapolis School District.

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