Minneapolis Public Schools is defending its agreement with the teachers’ union to lay off White instructors ahead of less-senior minority faculty, saying the terms are needed to fix “past discrimination.”
The district issued a Tuesday statement after coming under criticism for language in its latest collective-bargaining agreement that requires schools to make a racial exception to the first-in, last-out seniority system on staffing cuts spurred by enrollment declines.
“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,” the district said in an email.
The clause in the district’s latest collective-bargaining agreement with the Minneapolis Teachers Federation doesn’t kick in until the spring semester, but some legal experts are already arguing that race-based layoffs are blatantly unconstitutional.
“The school district and the union should be on notice that what they’ve done is illegal and is going to be struck down,” said James Dickey, senior trial attorney at the Upper Midwest Law Center in Minneapolis. “And frankly, it’s such an easy thing for them to fix, although I’m not sure if there’s any political will to do that.”
Mr. Dickey is encouraging teachers who believe they have been victims of racial discrimination to contact him, although that may not happen until next year.
Hans Bader, a former Education Department attorney, said that race-based layoffs violate both the U.S. Constitution and Title VII of 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.”
“When it comes to termination (as opposed to hiring or promotion under an affirmative-action plan), an employer can’t racially discriminate even against whites,” said Mr. Bader in a Monday op-ed on Liberty Unyielding.
He also referred to a 1986 Supreme Court decision that found a “school district can’t lay off white teachers to remedy societal discrimination against blacks.”
The Minneapolis contract agreement that ended a three-week teachers’ strike in March seeks to correct the “continuing effects” of the district’s previous discrimination.
“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 said.
Mr. Bader responded that the district “wrongly views statistical underrepresentation of people of color in its teaching staff versus the general population as proof of discrimination against them,” pointing out that the population at large doesn’t have a teaching certificate.
“Moreover, even if the school system actually had discriminated in the distant past, that’s not enough to justify a racial preference today, according to federal appeals courts,” he said. “Instead, to give black people a racial preference, it has to show evidence of recent, widespread, intentional discrimination by the school system against black people.”
The union cited the district’s student-teacher racial disparity. About 18% of MPS teachers are non-White, according to the Minnesota Reformer, while more than 60% of students are minorities.
“Students need educators who look like them and who they can relate to,” said a March union statement in Minneapolis-St. Paul magazine. “This language gives us the ability to identify and address issues that contribute to a disproportionately high turnover of educators of color.”
The contract language applies both to layoffs and “excessing,” which refers to removing teachers from schools whose enrollment cannot support them. “Excess” teachers may ultimately be laid off if the district is unable to reassign them to other schools.
“Starting with the Spring 2023 Budget Tie-Out Cycle, if excessing a teacher who is a member of a population underrepresented among licensed teachers in the site, the District shall excess the next least senior teacher, who is not a member of an underrepresented population,” the agreement reads.
The contract also states that teachers working in certain programs “may be exempted from district-wide layoff outside of seniority order to remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination.”
Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo tweeted: “The Minneapolis teachers union has negotiated a contract in which the district will fire white teachers first. This is the inevitable endpoint of ‘equity.’”
• Matt Delaney contributed to this story.