What the Cruz-Guzman school desegregation lawsuit is really about | Opinion

April 14, 2022 6:00 am

Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images.

Editor’s note: The following is a response to a recent guest commentary about the Page Amendment, which is a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would make the right to quality public education “the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.” The author is the plaintiffs’ lawyer in a case that alleges that the state has violated the Minnesota Constitution by allowing racial and socio-economic segregation in St. Paul and Minneapolis schools.

The following two paragraphs mischaracterize both the nature of the Cruz-Guzman case and the latest ruling by the judge:

Similarly, the author’s opposition to charter schools has nothing to do with the Page Amendment. The Cruz-Guzman case is a challenge to high-performing charter schools that serve predominantly children of color, such as Friendship Academy and Higher Ground Academy, whose attorneys include the prominent civil rights activist Nekima Levy Armstrong. The author apparently joins with the plaintiffs in opposing these schools. Most recently, however, the district court soundly rejected the plaintiffs’ core claim that the racial make-up of these schools violates the current Education Clause. The district court thus denied all relief requested.

In any event, the Cruz-Guzman suit has no relation to the Page Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed state-sponsored intentional segregation decades ago in Brown v. Board: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” If anything, the Page Amendment builds on Brown. The amendment requires not just a “quality public education,” but specifically one “that fully prepares children with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society.”

First, we never sued any charter schools. Our case is entirely against the state of Minnesota for permitting and failing to remedy racial and socioeconomic segregation in the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public School Districts in violation of the Education, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution.

Part of the violations is exempting charter charter schools from any desegregation/integration rules, an exemption that has led to myriad segregated charter schools, both white and non-white. Three of the many metro charter schools were allowed to intervene in the case because they felt threatened by it. They speak only for themselves, not for the many other metro charters.

Second, the piece makes it appear that our lawsuit has been dismissed by the court. This is not so. The proceedings referenced in the piece involved only a motion for partial summary judgment that the state had violated the Education Clause by allowing and failing to correct segregation by race and socioeconomic status (“SES”) in the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts.

We based the motion on the Minnesota Supreme Court’s statement in its favorable decision in our case that “It is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not ‘general,’ ‘uniform,’ ‘thorough,’ or ‘efficient.'” Cruz-Guzman v. State, 916 N.W.2d 1, n. 6 (Minn. 2018).

These, of course, are the four key standards the Education Clause requires the Legislature to meet in establishing and funding public schools. Because the present Education Clause imposes a mandate on the State to meet these standards, our position is that failure to meet them violates the Education Clause regardless of whether Minnesota intended or caused the racial or SES segregation, and the state therefore must remedy the segregation.

The district court judge denied the motion because the judge was reluctant to accept our position without guidance from an appellate court that we were correct in our interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision. The judge did, however, authorize us to appeal the ruling, which we have done. The Court of Appeals will now be considering the issue. Otherwise all of our claims are still intact and preserved for trial regardless of the outcome of the appeal. If we have to prove both intent and causation of segregation by the state, we are prepared to do so.

Finally, the statement that “the Cruz-Guzman suit has no relation to the Page Amendment” is false. The Page Amendment proposes to strip away the four key requirements of the Education Clause — that the Legislature establish and fund general, uniform, thorough, and efficient public school systems — which are the underpinnings of our claim that racial and SES segregation violate the Education Clause.

Elimination of these requirements, as the Page Amendment seeks to do, threatens to take us back to the bad old days of “separate but equal.”

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Dan Shulman
Dan Shulman

Dan Shulman has been a practicing trial lawyer for 50 years. He specializes in complex commercial and civil rights litigation. He is the plaintiffs' attorney in the Minnesota school desegregation case known as Cruz-Guzman.