The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a district judge's order in a case brought by families who allege the state has long shirked its duties in creating equitable schools, saying any segregation was not intentional, and therefore doesn't violate the state Constitution.
"A racially imbalanced school system, by itself, is not a violation of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution," wrote Appeals Judge Matthew Johnson.
Dan Shulman, one of the attorneys representing families in the Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota case, said in an interview that he plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court to seek a different outcome on the partial request for summary judgment.
"Under the Education Clause, it's our view that we didn't have to do it," Shulman said of the two rulings that determined the plaintiffs need to prove intent in order to prevail in court.
The Attorney General's Office on Monday referred questions to the state Department of Education, which did not respond to a request for comment.
The highly watched case has wound its way through the court system since 2015, when seven Twin Cities families, led by Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, sued the state on the grounds that schools in the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts are effectively segregated if either more than 60% of students or fewer than 20% of students in each building are pupils of color or qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The suit alleges that Minnesota is in violation of the Education Clause of the state Constitution for allowing districts to operate such schools.
The state attempted to settle the case last May with an agreement that would have cost an estimated $63 million per year. That settlement required state lawmakers' approval, but the Legislature did not act on it.
The deal would have required Twin Cities schools to identify "historically underserved students" using factors such as race and socioeconomic status in parts of the metro and expand existing state integration efforts by requiring schools to adopt culturally relevant classroom instruction and programs.
It would have also opened four new magnet schools and required districts and charter schools — the latter of which are currently exempt from the state's integration mandates — to set three-year plans for achieving racial and economic integration and to close the academic gaps between student groups.
Although superintendents in the seven-county metro area have kept an eye on the Cruz-Guzman case as it's moved through the judiciary and Legislature, the Association of Metropolitan School District since 2016 has tried to address the plaintiffs' concerns with its own nine-point plan.
"Not all of our kids are succeeding in the current system, and we recognize that. We want to put into place strategies to make sure all kids are getting an equitable education," Scott Croonquist, the association's executive director, said in an interview.
Its initiative, known as the Reimagine Minnesota plan, aims to develop and sustain cultural competency for metro-area teachers, advocate for state funding for education and personalize the classroom experience for the region's students.
The impetus for the program, Croonquist said, was that administrators who oversee the state's largest districts predicted that it would take years for the lawsuit to spur state courts or lawmakers to make any meaningful changes to the way Minnesota schools are operated or funded.
Superintendents have also expressed skepticism on the effectiveness of busing students to achieve racial parity in schools, largely due to the state's charter school and open-enrollment laws.
"Although we are watching the lawsuit with interest, we're really trying to implement our own strategies that lead to student success," Croonquist said.
Shulman said he plans to petition the state Supreme Court to review the case. That court in 2018 ruled that the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs have the legal standing to sue after a lower court dismissed the case.
Shulman said he will also ask justices to disregard the two judge's rulings that he and his clients must prove Minnesota lawmakers intentionally drafted state policy that led schools to become segregated.
"Everybody acknowledges that it's very difficult to prove intent," Shulman said. "We're long past the Jim Crow days."
He added: "I'm prepared to do it. I think the evidence is there."