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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Education reform groups say they plan to file a lawsuit Thursday challenging Minnesota tenure and dismissal laws that protect teachers.
The lawsuit is set to be filed against the state of Minnesota in Ramsey County, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1SbbUBW ) reported. The suit is modeled after similar challenges in New York and California. It contends that the laws protect teachers who should be removed from the classroom and prevent thousands of students from getting a high-quality education.
The plaintiffs are four mothers from Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis. They are seeking to have the tenure and dismissal laws ruled unconstitutional.
"When we look throughout the country at places where there are harmful teacher employment statutes and significant achievement gaps, Minnesota was one of the first states that popped up as a place that could use this kind of help," said Ralia Polechronis, executive director of Partnership for Educational Justice, one of the education reform groups supporting the Minnesota case.
At issue are laws that give layoff protection to teachers after three years on the job, require a lengthy procedure to fire them and set up a system where teachers with less seniority are fired first regardless of their performance.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius defended Minnesota's laws.
"We also have rigorous laws that protect due process for teachers and that, when followed, provide school administrators and school boards with the authority to remove teachers," Cassellius told the newspaper.
President Denise Specht of Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, said current laws do not protect ineffective teachers.
"It doesn't matter to the out-of-state groups behind this suit that Minnesota is facing a teacher shortage, or that high-needs schools are trying to attract more senior teachers, or the growing body of research showing disparities in income, health and opportunity drive academic inequality — not employment practices," Specht said in a statement. "This is a just another attack on working people."
The lawsuit cites disparities in Minnesota's educational outcomes based on race and income as evidence that thousands of students, especially minorities, do not have access to high-quality teachers.
"Too many Minnesota public school students are taught by teachers who fail to provide their students with the most basic skills necessary to participate as a citizen and compete in the marketplace," the complaint said.
Lead plaintiff Tiffini Flynn Forslund said she began protesting the current teacher tenure protections after her daughter's fifth-grade teacher was laid off during budget cuts in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. He was one of the first to lose his job because he was only in the district for one year.
"I couldn't understand how an excellent teacher could be laid off," Forslund said. "He outshined any teacher I had ever had or any of my kids had."
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com