Racial language in Minneapolis teacher’s contract ignites a firestorm

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Minneapolis teachers settled a 14-day strike in March, they celebrated a groundbreaking provision in their new contract that was intended to protect teachers of color from seniority-based firings and help ensure that minority students have teachers who look like them.

Months later, the conservative media erupted with denunciations of the policy as racist and unconstitutional discrimination against white educators. A legal group is seeking to recruit teachers and taxpayers willing to sue to scrap the language. The teachers’ union paints the dispute as an ongoing controversy when there is no imminent danger of someone losing their job. Meanwhile, the dispute unfolds just months before arguments in a pair of US Supreme Court cases that could reshape affirmative action.

“The same people who want to bust teachers unions and blame seniority are now championing it for white people,” said Greta Callahan, president of the teachers’ unit of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. “This is all made up by the right now. And we couldn’t be more proud of this language.“

Recent coverage on conservative platforms such as local news website Alpha News, Fox News nationally, and the Daily Mail internationally drew criticism from prominent figures, including Donald Trump Jr. and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who downplayed the power of public employee unions in his state Walker on Twitter called it “another example of why government unions should be eliminated.”

The contract language does not specifically say that white teachers would be fired before teachers of color, though critics say that would be the effect. The contract exempts “teachers who are members of underrepresented populations among teachers licensed 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 they perform best when their educators include teachers and support staff of color, and that’s especially critical in a district that suffers from persistent achievement gaps. callahan said their union fought for years to get the protection added to his contract, and that he knows of two other districts in Minnesota with similar provisions.

Minneapolis is one of many struggling US districts with a declining number of teachers and tight budgets. But Callahan questioned whether the provision threatens anyone’s job, noting that Minneapolis has nearly 300 job openings like teachers and students prepare to go back to school, and the language will not take effect until the 2023 academic year.

Callahan called it “just one tiny little step toward equity” that doesn’t make up for the fact that many teachers of color 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 Native American, the language of ancient times is one part of a larger mission to improve education.

West said she strongly believes students of color benefit from having teachers who are like them, but said she has also seen that diversity can empower white students. She said that she has sometimes been the first educator of color to have had black or white students.

“We want kids of all demographics to have experiences with people from different backgrounds and cultures, and realize 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 point of this provision is clearly to fire white teachers first, regardless of merit, based on the color of their skin, and that’s a big deal under the Constitution and the 14th Amendment,” said James Dickey, senior trial attorney. at the Upper Midwest Law Center, a conservative nonprofit that often clashes with public employee unions. He has initiated litigation over issues like COVID-19 mask mandates and the display of Black Lives Matter posters.

Dickey said his group is considering suing and has had a rush of Minneapolis taxpayers, and some teachers, contacting them to say they are “offended that my tax money could go to fund this kind of racist agenda.”

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

The Wygant case involved a teachers’ contract in Jackson, Michigan, which took a different approach than the Minneapolis settlement. It effectively said that Jackson could not make cuts that would lead to an overall reduction in the percentage of minority staff employed in the district. White teachers sued after being fired, while some less senior teachers of color kept their jobs. A divided Supreme Court held that the firings 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 the Minneapolis wording in other states’ contracts, though he said some contracts provide exceptions to direct seniority rules for teachers in hard-to-fill specialties. . such as math and special education.

Officials from other national public employee 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 the cases brought up for oral arguments before the Supreme Court in October, involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, could relate to the Minneapolis dispute. the cases are challenges to consideration of race in college admission decisions

Affirmative action has been reviewed by the high court several times over the last 40 years and has generally been upheld, but with limits. However, with three new conservative justices on the court since its last review, the practice may be facing its greatest threat even.

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

“In the past, the US Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action when there were very valid goals to be achieved in the ultimate quest for quality for all human beings,” Daly said. “Now, today’s question is: Will this concept be upheld by the courts in light of the more conservative stance of the Supreme Court? I don’t have an answer on that.”


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