One desegregation lawsuit not enough

Minnesota’s about to be sued again for school segregation

 

By Isaac Peterson

Contributing Writer

 

In about 1995, Minneapolis attorney Daniel Shulman was lead counsel in the landmark Minnesota class action court case Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP, et al. v. State of Minnesota, et al., File No. MC 95-014800, Hennepin County District Court, Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota. The action was brought “for failure to provide an adequate education in Minneapolis public schools as required by the Minnesota State Constitution.”

Although the case resulted in a settlement in favor of the plaintiffs, Shulman, of the Minneapolis law firm Gray Plant Mooty, is instituting a new class action suit, about which he commented, “Essentially, you could say it’s the son of the previous case; it’s the same case. Of course, there will be different plaintiffs, but it will assert many of the same violations, because since the first suit, the situation has become worse than it ever was.”

Shulman explained the legal basis for the original case: “Under the United States Constitution, there is no right to an adequate education; the U.S. Supreme Court has said that. However, under the Minnesota State Constitution, and the constitutions of many other states, there is a right to an adequate education.

“The Minnesota legislature is charged with that obligation under the Minnesota constitution, and the Minnesota Supreme Court has recognized that right as a so-called ‘fundamental right.’ Which is very important, because that means there has to be a very substantial justification for violating that right.

“The original suit also asserted that ‘the State had failed in its obligation to provide an adequate education to schoolchildren in the city of Minneapolis, for two reasons: One, the education was segregated, by race and by socioeconomic

Daniel Shulman MSR file photo
Daniel Shulman
MSR file photo

status. Therefore, the children in segregated schools were not receiving an equal education. Separate is not equal, therefore it’s inadequate.

“Two, by any objective measure, the education was inadequate.

“When we settled our lawsuit, it was a settlement with the State, but it came as a result of the mediation involving the Minneapolis schools, the State, suburban school districts, and it produced the Choice Is Yours Program as a key part of it. To one degree or another that program still exists.”

The settlement also “gave parents greater freedom to transfer within [school districts in] Minneapolis and [created] a parent information program to make parents better informed about their choices.” It also created Integration Districts from which emerged schools like Crosswinds and Harambee (see last week’s “Special Integration District School resists takeover attempt” and this week’s continuation of that story).

Shulman maintains that a revival of the original suit is necessary because, almost 20 years after the culmination of the settlement of the first case, “The same conditions that existed when we filed the first case in 1995 have reoccurred almost 20 years later. And they’re worse. That includes segregation of schools, discrimination in terms of suspensions, teacher assignments to schools, misuse of funds that are supposed to be for integration, and the State of Minnesota has approved and knowingly allowed this to occur and they are responsible for fixing it. [We need] to make sure that we desegregate these metropolitan schools.”

Shulman’s new suit is currently focused on the Minneapolis public school system but could also include St. Paul schools if people in St. Paul are willing to be plaintiffs.

“People who have standing to join this case are parents of children enrolled in the Minneapolis schools, and potentially the St. Paul schools,” Shulman explained. “We would prefer that the schoolchildren be in elementary schools, because if they’re in high school, there is the potential that because these cases take a long time, they’ll ‘age out’ of the system before the case is concluded. We want parents of children who are going to be in the system for at least the next five to 10 years.”

Concerned organizations are also eligible to join the suit; the Minneapolis NAACP was a plaintiff in the original action. Any organizations that have what Shulman called “associational standing,” such as the NAACP or the Urban League, could join, as they would have such standing.

Shulman is bringing the case pro bono, so plaintiffs need not be concerned about legal fees, and there currently is no time limit to join the suit.

“I have dedicated my professional life to attacking abuses and concentrations of power that produce inequality and injustice. And this is one,” said Shulman.

“One of the reasons this is so urgent and so important is that the incidence of a bad or inadequate education falls 100 percent on the child, and zero percent on the people that are responsible for educating the child. So we’re talking about years that can determine a child’s life and potentially ruin a child’s life.

“That is an intolerable situation, and I think if people really think about it in those terms, they will see that we have got to do something. It’s the state’s responsibility. When this state was organized and its constitution was adopted, that was recognized as a key role of the state. They’ve got to step up and fulfill that potential.

“And I think we’re fortunate now that we have a governor that I believe would be very receptive to a way to deal with this problem.

“So this is really an extraordinarily opportune time to do this, but I don’t think we can get anyone’s attention without a lawsuit. As [author] Samuel Johnson said, ‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’

“The problem is, such negative messages come out of the federal courts on any kind of efforts to desegregate, and people think there is no remedy for this. And there is, under state law.”

 

Persons and organizations desiring to join the lawsuit may contact Daniel Shulman by email at daniel.shulman@gpmlaw.com or by calling 612-632-3335.    

Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to ipeterson@spokesman-recorder.com

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