Racial integration laws exempting charter schools might be unconstitutional, Minnesota judge rules
ST. PAUL — State laws that exempt charter schools from racial integration mandates might violate the Minnesota Constitution, a judge ruled this week.
The preliminary ruling came in the case of Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota, whose plaintiffs argue that metro area schools are so segregated that students of color can’t get the “adequate” education the constitution guarantees.
The plaintiffs charge that segregated charter schools are part of the problem.
Since 1999, Minnesota schools have been required to monitor the racial makeup of their students and create plans to integrate if they’re found to have an imbalance. But charter schools specifically have been exempt from those requirements.
Higher Ground Academy and Friendship Academy of the Arts, charter schools with almost all-black student populations, intervened in the case in hopes of preserving that exemption. They say their black students get a culturally affirming environment and perform better than students at competing district schools.
But on Tuesday, June 11, Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner refused the charter schools’ request to declare that the exemption is constitutional.
Robiner wrote that plaintiffs attorney Dan Shulman presented evidence that when they wrote the exemption into law in 1999, “state actors … were acting intentionally to allow school districts to become more racially polarized.”
Robiner continued: “It is reasonable to infer that if (charter schools) were subject to such oversight, their racial imbalance would have been mitigated by operation of integration plans mandated by the desegregation rules.”
The Department of Education tried, through its rule-making process, to eliminate the charter school exemption in 2015, but an administrative law judge said the department lacked the authority to do so.
Even if she had sided with the charter schools on the exemption’s constitutionality, Robiner wrote, that would not necessarily have protected them from having to integrate.
That’s because if Cruz-Guzman succeeds in obtaining a court-ordered solution for Twin Cities school segregation, the remedy may well include the area’s charter schools.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, is tentatively scheduled for trial in July 2020.