A lawsuit that could overhaul the racial and socioeconomic makeup of Minnesota's schools will be up for discussion before the Minnesota Supreme Court this week, the latest twist in a case that has stretched nearly a decade.
The state's highest court will review a state Court of Appeals decision in the ongoing Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota case on Tuesday before an audience of students at Richfield High School. But that's not the end of the legal tussle.
Here are five things to know about the court case.
What is Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota?
The case originated in 2015 when Alejandro Cruz-Guzman and a handful of other families sued the Minnesota Legislature, along with the state government itself and the Minnesota Department of Education.
They argue the state created an unequal education system by enabling segregation in public schools.
Dan Shulman, an attorney with the firm Shulman & Buske who represents the plaintiffs, says historically racist housing policies such as redlining and racial covenants — the latter of which are still found in some deeds to this day — contributed to the existing state of affairs.
The Minnesota Constitution requires the government to "establish a general, uniform and thorough system of public schools and students have a right to receive an adequate education."
Families also took aim at the state's exemptions for charter schools in its desegregation plans, which they say create further racial imbalances in the education system.
Solicitor General Liz Kramer with the Minnesota Attorney General's Office will represent the state during oral arguments at Richfield High on Tuesday.
What do the different parties want?
The plaintiffs want better integration of schools by race and income. They don't want children of color to represent less than 20% of the student population at any school or for any one racial group to constitute more than 60% of enrollment. They also argue, according to the complaint, that the same ratios should apply for students who qualify for free lunches.
"We're looking at eliminating segregation and fostering integration and diversity," Shulman said.
He argues that integrating schools will provide the panacea for ailing schools by ensuring that classrooms are balanced in their racial and socioeconomic makeup.
But civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, drawing on her experience as a Black mother, said she's seen that not all schools are welcoming to all children.
She's part of the legal team defending Friendship Academy of the Arts, a Minneapolis charter school where Black students now make up about 93% of enrollment.
"We need schools like Friendship Academy that are culturally affirming, that are intentional about raising up our young people, instilling in them a sense of competence [and] understanding of their heritage," Levy Armstrong said.
The state Attorney General's Office declined to comment Friday.
But in court documents, state officials had argued that a segregated educational system is not inherently unequal and claimed Shulman's suit was akin to asking the judicial branch to craft education policy, a power reserved for the Legislature.
Wasn't this case already settled?
Almost. Lawyers reached an agreement in 2021 that included a sweeping plan to integrate schools in the Twin Cities metro area by way of free transportation, new magnet schools and additional mandates for segregated schools.
But those plans were contingent on approval from the Legislature, which didn't act on the agreement. That means the case still needs to make its way through Hennepin County District Court, where it originated in 2015.
So what is happening this week?
The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that determined the plaintiffs must prove segregation was intentional for it to be considered unconstitutional.
The Court of Appeals said in September that it is necessary to prove that intent, but Shulman appealed, saying the plaintiffs shouldn't have to.
"The issue for the court and the reason this is important is that it's really difficult today to prove intentional segregation," Shulman said. "People who want to see segregation are usually not stupid enough to put it in writing or to announce it."
After the Minnesota Supreme Court decides the matter, the legal battle could shift back to District Court.
How would the case affect my school?
Should the plaintiffs prevail in court, Cruz-Guzman may lead to the largest enrollment overhaul in metro-area schools in more than two decades. That worries charter school leaders, in particular, who say it could force some to close.
School leaders and some parents of color who gathered for a news conference last week at Friendship Academy say a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could unfairly target schools like theirs, which takes a culturally sensitive approach to academics that's important for many families.
"We think that you should evaluate a school based upon how you perform, how you speak, how you do math problems ... not who's sitting next to you," said Jack Perry, the lawyer representing the charters at Friendship Academy.
But Shulman argues many charter schools underperform relative to neighborhood public schools. The Minnesota Department of Education in 2022 identified nearly 40 charter schools in need of intense academic support for students who didn't meet state literacy or math proficiency benchmarks.
Friendship Academy was not among the schools identified.