The state agency that licenses Minnesota teachers can require new educators to demonstrate cultural competency in teaching before they are certified to work in the state's public schools, a judge has ruled.
Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) officials say they sought to include cultural competency training for newly licensed teachers so educators are better equipped to teach the state's increasingly diverse student population.
Although the majority of the agency's proposed updates fall within its authority, Administrative Law Judge James Mortenson said officials must revise or remove sections that dictate what material teachers use in the classroom.
"It is not within the Board's teacher licensing authority to address gaps in school curricula," he wrote.
The board will meet Friday to address that feedback, PELSB spokeswoman Michelle Hersh Vaught said in a statement.
The proposed updates to the agency's standards of effective practice faced pushback from critics who said the rule changes amounted to indoctrination and the politicization of schools.
Proponents, meanwhile, said the updates are a necessary step in making students from various cultural backgrounds and of different gender identities feel comfortable in their learning environments and better able to learn.
"This is about preparing new teachers who will work to foster a learning environment where every single kid is respected and welcomed," said Matt Shaver, communications director for education policy advocacy group EdAllies.
In 2012, white students comprised nearly 74% of those enrolled in Minnesota public schools. During the 2021-22 school year, they made up 63% of the student population, according to the most recent data provided by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Mortenson ruled that the licensing agency's proposed updates were within its authority, save for three sections he asked officials to revise.
In those instances, Mortenson took issue with the state licensing board requiring teachers to work outside the scope of their established curriculum.
One proposed standard would have required teachers to seek classroom material that "includes missing narratives to dominant culture" while another would have dictated teachers identify gaps in their curriculum and include material that includes "multiple perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds." The third would have required teachers to adopt classroom material that generally "features, highlights, and uses resources written and developed by traditionally marginalized voices."
Outgoing state Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said in an interview that part of the ruling was "a win for those of us who questioned the content of those areas on curriculum."
"I was pleased that the [administrative law judge] recognized that and honored the comments we had," she said.
The state licensing board may adopt the new standards once officials revise the proposed rules or strike them entirely, then resubmit their proposal for another judicial review after the Friday meeting.
If a judge approves the revisions, the new standards take effect immediately. It's unclear how long that final review will take.
The standards first came under review in 2019, prompted in part by requests for an update from educators and advocacy groups. The new standards were initially slated for a late-summer judicial review and final adoption this year.
But an August hearing on the near-final rules drew widespread, politicized opposition in the lead-up to the midterm elections. Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen urged supporters to attend the meeting to speak out against the standards and 44 House Republicans signed on to a letter alleging the updates trampled on parents' rights and that several proposed changes fell outside the scope of the licensing board's authority.
Mortenson acknowledged those complaints in his ruling but ultimately sided with the teacher licensing agency, save for the curricular mandates.
"The administrative law judge did what we expected them to do: determine the reasonableness to these rules and whether they're within PELSB's authority," Shaver said.