In recent years, the conversation around school integration has become more frequent, and is coming to a head in the Twin Cities with the recent school desegregation lawsuit, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota. To me, the renewed conversation about integration started nearly a year ago in a This American Life episode produced by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

If you somehow have not yet listened to this podcast, you need to stop and listen immediately. It is that good! During the podcast, in a particularly haunting piece of audio, white parents at a school board meeting protest a new policy that would allow black students from “the wrong part of town” to attend school with their sheltered, white children. In my view the clip demonstrates perfectly how far we have to go to dismantle racism in America and to ensure black and brown students attend high quality schools. I am incredibly thankful for Hannah-Jones’ reporting and continued coverage of this issue.

Here in Minnesota, the role of charter schools has been a center point of the school integration debate. In recent years, Minnesotan families have increasingly called for culturally relevant and affirming schools—especially in the Twin Cities, which is home to higher concentrations of families of color and families new to the United States. In response to this community need, a handful of charter schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul have responded to their communities to offer schools with an academically rigorous and culturally relevant education program.

Earlier this year, I visited one of these schools: Higher Ground Academy. I left the school impressed. Visiting the school, I saw first-hand the value of culturally affirming schools: schools that celebrate the language and culture of their students, and purposely create environments reflective of the students they serve. Schools like Higher Ground provide families an important choice for cultural relevance and affirmation, especially given the dearth of teachers of color in our state. Additionally, Higher Ground has some of the strongest achievement results among St. Paul schools and regularly receives recognition for its academic growth.

Schools like Higher Ground prove that it is possible to accomplish both: that schools can both develop programs which transform outcomes for students and also create safe, affirming and inclusive environment for students of color.

Yet paradoxically, plaintiffs in the new lawsuit seek to close charter schools like Higher Ground Academy in an attempt to curb segregation in the state.

Recently, I attended the 4th Annual Minnesota Charter School Conference, where school leaders from culturally-specific charters joined a breakout session to learn how this lawsuit might impact their schools and the families that have chosen to attend them.

While the Minnesota Department of Education is the primary defendant in the case, a group of intervening attorneys are playing a supporting role on behalf of a group of charter schools named in the suit. At the conference one of these attorneys—Jack Perry from Briggs and Morgan—laid out the legal arguments before the court:

  • The plaintiffs case: A group of seven parents and guardians on behalf of their children are arguing that de facto segregation in the Twin Cities deprives students of color of an adequate education as required in the Minnesota State Constitution. According to the plaintiffs, the expansion of culturally-specific charter schools in the state have “promoted and exacerbated” segregation by race and socioeconomic status in the Twin Cities metro area.
  • The state’s defense: The state is constitutionally required to provide all students with an adequate and equitable education, though the education clause of the state’s Constitution does not provide a measurable standard to define this. As such, the plaintiffs’ case provides no evidence that the state is failing to meet this requirement.
  • The charter defendants’ case: The mere presence of segregated schools—de facto segregation—is not inherently discriminatory or unconstitutional. Plaintiffs must demonstrate de jure segregation, or discriminatory intent. More importantly, a constitutional violation is not triggered by parental choice. In other words, if students of color are concentrated in a school because their parents chose to enroll them there, they are not the subject of a constitutional violation.

It’s one thing to ensure students of color are not forced into segregated schools, either through intent or inattention. It’s another infringe on the right of families of color to select culturally affirming schools, further disenfranchising our state’s most vulnerable families.

Needless to say this is an important case, which could have widespread implications for the future of schooling in the Twin Cities and metro region. Since the first motions to dismiss were thrown out, this case will be back in court later this month. Stay tuned for more on this important case.


In the meantime, here are a few other resources and readings about the case:

Brandie Burris-Gallagher is MinnCAN’s policy manager.


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