Teachers sue to stay in their classrooms

Twenty-seven realigned Minneapolis teachers filed suit with the Minnesota Court of Appeals July 28 alleging that the Minneapolis Public School's realignment process is unreasonable, arbitrary and unsupported by substantial evidence.

The teachers want to undo the realignment process, in which 155 veteran teachers were moved out of the their classrooms and into curriculum areas they are licensed to teach have but in which they have no experience.

The move, which district and union officials say state law mandates, was done to keep the most-senior teachers employed.

However, some very senior teachers are suing.

Susan Bell, one of the plaintiffs, is a 32-year teaching veteran, who for the past 15 years has taught 5th grade at Lake Harriet Community School, 4912 Vincent Ave. S. She was notified June 30 that she was realigned to Ann Sullivan Communication Center, a pre-K-8 school at 3100 E. 28th St., to teach special education.

"Classroom teaching is my true love," Bell said. "I got my special education license 25 years ago, and I have never used it. I am going to be a special education resource teacher, and I do not know the first thing about it. But I have no other options. That's why we are going ahead with challenging the School Board's realignment decision."

The realignment controversy stems from the 1986 Minnesota Supreme Court decision allowing a Minneapolis home economics teacher to bump a less-senior science teacher in order to keep her job.

Greg Corwin, who represents the 27 teachers, contends realignment is not in the best interests of the students -- a possible exception the district could use. "The [Supreme Court] decision set out certain criteria that districts should consider in laying off teachers, it is not just a slavish adherence to strict seniority."

Since the school year begins in weeks, Corwin asked the state Supreme Court to expedite the suit and hear it directly.

School Board member Dennis Schapiro said that a teachers' victory before the school year starts would cause an intolerable level of chaos. "It would be a little like trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again," he said.

"The general sense I have gotten from the school district's legal counsel is that this may be a morally pure effort, but I don't think it is likely that the courts are going to tell the district that they have to undo this and make decisions that have no organizational structure to them," Schapiro said.

Corwin said with the exception of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, most Minnesota school districts are allowed to be flexible when it comes to realignment. Many teacher contracts stipulate that teachers who haven't used their licenses for five years are not eligible for teaching positions to protect students from being taught by teachers who don't know what they are doing.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Minnesota, the state's teacher's union, oppose the lawsuit. They've told Corwin they would counter-sue if the district loses the case, he said.

Said Corwin, "All we want is that they act in the best interests of the students, parents and the citizens of the school district."

Asked what she will do if she wins the lawsuit but loses her job? Bell said, "I hadn't thought of that. I am sure I can get a teaching job somewhere. I am not ready to retire."