Minnesota Supreme Court: State Constitution Does Not Prohibit School Racial Imbalances

The Minnesota Supreme Court has made its second ruling on a school desegregation case that is eight years old. The court has determined that racial imbalances in public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul do not automatically violate the state constitution. The case has now been sent back to a district court in Minneapolis, where it can proceed to trial. The plaintiffs wanted the Supreme Court to bypass the trial court process and declare that the presence of racially imbalanced schools in the Twin Cities alone proves their case.

Should the families who filed the lawsuit in 2015, known as “Alejandro Cruz-Guzman vs. State of Minnesota,” pursue the case further, they will not be required to prove that the state purposely created segregated schools. Their only obligation will be to demonstrate that schools in each community ended up with racial imbalances.

Nevertheless, they will need to show that these enrollment patterns result in certain groups of students being deprived of an “adequate” education, as guaranteed by the state constitution. Over the past 25 years, Minnesota has mandated that traditional school districts make genuine efforts toward integration. However, these efforts have resulted in ineffective “voluntary” rules.

Despite officials’ attempts to devise rules that comply with the law, they have been unable to prove that racial isolation itself leads to poor academic outcomes. Nonetheless, task forces and policymakers have consistently concluded that a significant bipartisan majority of people value diverse schools for moral and cultural reasons.

This decision overturns a ruling from a state appellate court, which stated that only intentional segregation, as described by the Supreme Court in “Brown v. Board of Education,” would violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit requests that the court determine that Minnesota laws, which allow students to attend schools outside of their home districts and in public charter schools, contribute to segregation. Charter schools are specifically exempt from the state’s integration rules, which mandate that districts make genuine efforts to promote diversity. The plaintiffs urge the court to overturn the relevant section of the charter school law.

In response, several charter schools have been permitted to join the lawsuit. While students at these schools apply through blind lotteries, many Minnesota charter schools now admit students who are predominantly of a single race or culture. Some of these schools that have joined the suit have shown exceptional performance compared to traditional district schools, thereby complicating the plaintiffs’ argument that racial imbalances alone deny students their right to an adequate education.

Attorneys representing the charter schools argue that if the plaintiffs are successful, the high-performing schools would struggle to maintain their culturally affirming models, which cater to the families who specifically seek them out, while also trying to comply with the pressure to enroll a racially and ethnically diverse group of students.

In the main opinion, the justices made a distinction between state and district policies that exclude certain groups of students, intentionally isolating or segregating them, and the mere presence of racial imbalances.

Chief Justice Natalie Hudson, the first Black woman to hold the post, issued a strong dissent, arguing that “de facto segregation” in Twin Cities schools inherently violates the state’s constitution.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have not yet indicated whether they plan to proceed to trial.

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