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Are race-based teacher layoffs in Minneapolis legal?

The Minneapolis teachers union and school district say the agreement is meant to fix ‘past discrimination’

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Dozens of striking educators picket outside Justice Page Middle School in Minneapolis, March 8, 2022. A decision that white educators in the area would be laid off ahead of less-senior minority faculty to remedy “past discrimination” has met with pushback.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune via Associated Press

In an attempt to remedy “past discrimination,” Minneapolis Public Schools and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have mutually agreed that white educators would be laid off or reassigned ahead of less-senior minority faculty.

In response to criticism, the school district issued a statement defending the language of the negotiated collective bargaining agreement, according to a Washington Times report.

“To remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination, Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) mutually agreed to contract language that aims to support the recruitment and retention of teachers from underrepresented groups as compared to the labor market and to the community served by the school district,” an email from the school district to the Washington Times states.

According to the agreement, past discrimination by the district disproportionately impacted the hiring of underrepresented teachers in the district, as compared to the relevant labor market and the community, and resulted in a lack of diversity of teachers.”

The agreement states that the clause in the district’s latest collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union will no longer be in effect once the teachers in the district reflect the diversity of the labor market and community.

Some legal experts question the constitutionality of race-based layoffs.

James Dickey, senior trial attorney at the Upper Midwest Law Center in Minneapolis, told the Washington Times: “The school district and the union should be on notice that what they’ve done is illegal and is going to be struck down.”

The center “fights to limit governmental, special interest and public union overreach,” according to its Twitter account.

Hans Bader, a former Education Department attorney, said that race-based layoffs violate the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act, citing a 1996 case in which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that school districts “can’t consider race even as a tie-breaker,” the Washington Times reported.

According to an op-ed by Bader, a 1986 Supreme Court decision found a “school district can’t lay off white teachers to remedy societal discrimination against blacks.”

The working agreement was reached in spring 2022 after a three-week teachers strike earlier in the school year.

The clause will not take effect until the spring 2023 and could be implemented as the school attempts to balance its next budget in the face of declining enrollment.

Each district department’s budget was cut by 5%, under the budget approved by the school district in June, which means a number of vacant positions will not be filled, according to the Star Tribune.