This week, four Minnesota parents filed a lawsuit, Forslund v. Minnesota, alleging that certain teacher-related state laws—including those that govern teacher tenure and dismissals—are unconstitutional, at times making it extremely difficult for schools to retain great teachers or remove those that are ineffective. This lawsuit has already garnered local and national media attention, and sparked conversations across the state. We expect the media coverage and public debate to continue, so we wanted to proactively share where we at MinnCAN stand on the Forslund lawsuit.
The bottom line is that we support and stand with the brave parents who have filed this suit and are asking for a better education for their children.
At MinnCAN, the core of our work takes place through policy changes at the Capitol, where we have seen great progress made through legislation on issues like pre-K access and teacher licensure. But we’ve also seen that many issues remain unaddressed or slow to change due to barriers in the legislative process, and the politics that surround it. Change happens at the whim of shifting political landscapes, which also often results in compromises that weaken a bill’s impact or implementation hurdles that dilute or negate legislative intent.
The truth is that even when families do call for change in traditional ways—contacting their legislators, speaking at school board meetings, signing petitions, writing letters to the editor—change can be far too slow. For the parents in the Forslund suit, and we’re sure many other families, their children’s right to a quality public education is too important to risk being slowed down any further.
As their suit spells out, the Minnesota Constitution provides that, “The legislature shall…secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” The Minnesota Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that Minnesota students have a constitutional and “fundamental” right to “a general and uniform system of education.”
To us, the plaintiffs’ request is clear: the Court should evaluate the current state laws in question and decide if they protect or actually impede on this right of students. Of course, this right of students should not infringe upon the due process right of teachers. These two rights can and must co-exist, and we hope that a solution is developed to find a legal and moral balance in a way that, to date, many worry our system has failed to do.
A legal review of the statutes that have created this system is more important now than ever: we continue to face nation-trailing academic achievement gaps, often along lines of race and family income, as well as growing challenges with teacher diversity (or lack thereof), shortages, attrition and support.
The root causes of these education disparities and challenges are complex, and will require complex solutions. As we craft these, it is not unreasonable—in fact, we believe it is critical—to examine the impact that current laws have on student achievement.
This is what we believe the parents in the Forslund case are seeking to do. They are raising their voices and asking questions, in the hopes of finding solutions for their children and their children’s schools, and for future generations of students.
While it is unclear how the Court will ultimately rule, we support the parents who have taken the bold step of filing this lawsuit. We hope that more parents, educators and students will continue to raise their voices and ask questions about the way things currently are, and that together, we will build a better education system for all children.