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February 23, 2023

Education Law Center and 33 of the nation’s leading education law scholars submitted an amici curiae, or “friends of the court,” brief urging the Minnesota Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling in Cruz-Guzman v. State finding that state policies causing school segregation in fact – or “de facto” segregation do not violate the right to public education guaranteed in the Minnesota Constitution.

The amici brief provides the Court with precedent from across the nation affirming the principle that intent is not required to establish a violation of the states’ constitutional obligation to provide an adequate public education. The brief notes that courts in several states – particularly in New Jersey, California, and Connecticut – have found that de facto segregation violates their respective constitutions. New Jersey has longstanding precedent that the provision in its constitution guaranteeing a “thorough and efficient” education requires the state to confront school segregation, whether unintentional or intentional.

“As the New Jersey Supreme Court has maintained for over five decades, it is the State’s duty to prevent and redress school segregation in order to provide a constitutional education for all students,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “New Jersey and other states provide Minnesota with a compelling roadmap for ensuring students are prepared for the multi-cultural, multi-racial society they will enter as adults by affording them the opportunity to learn and associate with children from diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds.”

The brief also argues that recognizing de facto segregation as a violation of Minnesota’s Education Clause would not run afoul of federal constitutional law, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 invalidating voluntary desegregation plans that assigned students to specific schools based on their race. The brief explains that the Parents Involved decision would only come into play if the Court were asked to review a plan devised by the Legislature to remedy a violation of the Minnesota Constitution. Any concern about a potential remedy violating federal Equal Protection law would be mere speculation.

The plaintiffs in Cruz-Guzman are parents and children enrolled in public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They filed a class action complaint in 2015, contending that school segregation deprived children in these districts of an adequate education under the Minnesota Constitution as well as its guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process. The plaintiffs identified several policies that are causing de facto segregation, including fixed district boundaries, school assignment practices, and the state exemption of charter schools from desegregation plans. The complaint alleged that consigning students to schools segregated by race and poverty harms their academic and life outcomes.

In 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court permitted the case to proceed to trial. The Court ruled it was appropriate for the judiciary to evaluate whether the Legislature failed to fulfill its  constitutional mandate to provide “a general and uniform system of public schools” that is “thorough and efficient.”

In 2021, after the Minnesota Legislature failed to enact a voluntary desegregation plan proposed jointly by the plaintiffs and the State to settle the case, the plaintiffs asked for partial summary judgment on their Education Clause claim.

The district court denied the plaintiffs’ motion, ruling that only de jure, or intentional, segregation could be the basis of an Education Clause claim. The court also ruled that finding an Education Clause violation based on de facto segregation would conflict with the federal Parents Involved decision. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs are represented by Dan Shulman of Shulman & Buske, PLLC in Minneapolis. The amici are represented pro bono by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. David Sciarra and Wendy Lecker of ELC and Derek Black, Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, were of counsel on the amici curiae brief.

Education Law Center, founded in 1973, pursues education justice and equity to ensure that all students receive a high quality public education effectively preparing them to participate as citizens in a democratic society and as valued contributors to a robust economy. If this e-blast was forwarded to you, please sign up to receive regular ELC updates here.

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Sharon Krengel
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