Minneapolis teacher contract race language ignites firestorm

Minneapolis teacher contract race language ignites firestorm

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Minneapolis teachers set up a 14-day strike in March, they entered into a groundbreaking clause in their new contract that aimed to protect black teachers from seniority layoffs and help ensure that racially-minority students have teachers who look like them.

Months later, the conservative media exploded with denunciations of the policy as racist and unconstitutional discrimination against white educators. A legal group is looking to recruit teachers and taxpayers willing to sue to throw away the language. The teachers’ union paints the dispute as an armed controversy when there is no imminent danger of someone losing their job. Meanwhile, the dispute is unfolding just months ahead of arguments in two US Supreme Court cases that could recast affirmative action.

“The same people who want to tear down teacher unions and blame seniority are now advocating it for white people,” said Greta Callahan, chair of the teachers unit at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. “This is all invented by the right now. And we couldn’t be more proud of that language.”

Recent coverage on conservative platforms such as local news site Alpha News, Fox News nationally and Daily Mail internationally has sparked criticism from prominent figures including Donald Trump Jr. his state. Walker on Twitter called it “another example of why government unions should be eliminated”.

The language of the contract does not specifically say that white teachers would be fired before teachers of color, although critics say that would be the effect. The agreement exempts “teachers who are members of underrepresented populations among licensed teachers in the District” as well as alumni of historically black and Hispanic colleges and tribal colleges. About 60% of the district’s teachers are white, while more than 60% of the students are racial minorities.

Advocates say racial minority students perform better when their educators include teachers and support staff of color, and that this is especially critical in a district that suffers from persistent performance differences. Callahan said her union has fought for years to have protection added to the contract and that she knows of two other Minnesota districts with similar provisions.

Minneapolis is one of many districts in the US struggling with declining teacher numbers and tight budgets. But Callahan disputed that the provision threatens anyone’s employment, noting that Minneapolis has nearly 300 vacancies unfilled as teachers and students prepare to return to school, and the language won’t go into effect until the 2023 academic year.

Callahan called this “just a small step toward equity” that doesn’t make up for the fact that many black teachers have left the district in recent years because they felt underpaid and disrespected.

For Lindsey West, a fifth-grade teacher at Clara Barton Community School who identifies as black and indigenous, the language of antiquity is part of a larger mission to improve education.

West said he strongly feels that students of color benefit from having teachers who look like them, but said he also saw that diversity can be empowering for white students. She said that she was sometimes the first educator of color that black or white students had.

“We want kids of all demographics to have experiences with people from different backgrounds and cultures and become aware that our shared humanity is what’s important, not the things that divide us,” West said.

Minneapolis Public Schools Acting Superintendent Rochelle Cox declined an interview request.

“The purpose of this provision is clearly to fire white professors first, regardless of merit, based on the color of their skin, and that’s a big issue under the Constitution and the 14th Amendment,” said James Dickey, senior trial attorney at the Upper. Midwest Law Center, a conservative not-for-profit organization that often takes on civil servant unions. It has brought litigation over issues such as COVID-19 mask mandates and Black Lives Matter poster display.

Dickey said his group is considering suing and has had a flurry of Minneapolis taxpayers — and some teachers — contacting them to say they are “offended that my tax dollars can fund this kind of racist agenda.”

He argued that a 1986 US Supreme Court decision known as the Wygant case bars such provisions and would serve as a precedent in Minnesota.

The Wygant case involved a contract for teachers in Jackson, Michigan, which took a different approach to the Minneapolis settlement. He effectively said that Jackson could not make cuts that would lead to an overall reduction in the percentage of minority personnel employed in the district. White teachers sued after being fired, while some less senior colored teachers kept their jobs. A split Supreme Court held that the layoffs violated the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.

Andrew Crook, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, said he was not aware of anything similar to Minneapolis wording on contracts in other states, although he said that some contracts provide exceptions to direct seniority rules for teachers in hard-to-fill specialties. such as mathematics and special education.

Officials from other national civil servants unions and professional associations said they did not know of anything similar in their fields or did not respond to requests for comment.

Two affirmative action cases set for oral arguments before the Supreme Court in October, involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, could play a role in the Minneapolis dispute. The cases challenge the consideration of race in college admissions decisions.

Affirmative action has been reviewed by the high court several times over the past 40 years and has generally been upheld, but with limits. With three new conservative judges on the court since its last review, however, the practice may be facing its biggest threat yet.

Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law who arbitrates disputes across the country, including many teacher cases over the years, said Minneapolis’ language appears designed to survive a court challenge.

“The United States Supreme Court has in the past passed affirmative action when there were very valid goals to be achieved in the ultimate pursuit of equality for all human beings,” Daly said. “Now the question for today is: will this concept be maintained by the courts in light of the more conservative stance of the STF? I don’t have an answer on that.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.