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Parents Decry Segregation in Twin Cities

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Minnesota has let segregation by race and socioeconomic status "spread like a cancer" for decades in its public schools, a class claims in court.

For the lead plaintiffs, schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul that disproportionately enroll students of color and students living in poverty "are not equal to neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools."

"The state has failed to educate these students both in comparison with other students and based on its own standards of what is adequate," the complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court states.

Compounding this inequality is the growing pattern of charter schools with predominantly white student populations cropping up in the suburbs, near racially diverse traditional schools, according to the Nov. 5 complaint.

The plaintiffs, a nonprofit called One Family One Community and seven parents led by Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, take care to note that they are defining "predominantly white" as a student population that is at least 80 percent white.

They say just 44 percent of traditional schools in the suburbs met this standard in 2013, but that 67 percent of suburban charter schools were predominantly white.

"This figure has nearly tripled in the previous five years," the 38-page complaint states.

Parents say Minnesota nevertheless continually exempts charter schools from the state's rules and requirements for desegregation and integration.

Brenda Cassellius, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, has even acknowledged that the odds are against students of color receiving an adequate education in segregated schools, according to the complaint.

"She has nevertheless publically stated that she favors and will not take action to desegregate segregated schools," the complaint states.

After enumerating the disparate graduation rates among different races in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the plaintiffs note that the city students are both failing to meet state standards and performing worse than students who attend schools in the suburbs.

"While Minneapolis public schools have a 58.7 percent graduation rate and St. Paul has a graduation rate of 75.6 percent, suburban school districts often average graduation rates of 90 percent or more" the complaint states.

Specific practices reinforce segregation in Minnesota, the parents claim, pointing to the state's approval of developing "community schools"; racial segregation among staff; the misallocation of financial resources; discriminatory disciplinary procedures; and abusive use of Special Education Services, alternative schools, English proficiency programs, magnet schools, charter schools and tracking practices.

They also say the state has supported consolidation of smaller suburban districts that have excluded Minneapolis and St. Paul public school districts.

"The defendants have allowed the stain and pollution of public school segregation by race and socioeconomic status to spread like a cancer throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area over the last 20 years," the complaint states.

This is true when comparing the Twin Cities to other communities across the nation, the plaintiffs say.

They note that in Portland, the number of highly segregated schools with more than 90 percent students of color increased from 0 to 2 between 2000 and 2009. That same time period saw the number of highly segregated schools in greater Seattle jump from 14 to 25.

"In the Twin Cities region, the number of highly segregated schools increased from 11 to 83," according to the complaint.

Awareness of the increasing segregation has failed to stop the problem, the plaintiffs say, noting that the Minnesota Department of Education is "preparing to repeal even the weakened remedial measures within this existing school desegregation/integration rule."

"This includes repeal of all measures requiring interdistrict cooperation between segregated and nonsegregated school districts, and repeal of all measures that address intentional discrimination or segregation," the complaint states.

The parents allege deprivation of an adequate education, violations of their civil rights, and trampling of the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S> Constitution.

They are represented by Daniel Shulman with Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett in Minneapolis.

Named as defendants along with the state are the Minnesota Department of Education, DOE Commissioner Cassellius, Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Senate President Sandra Pappas and Kurt Daudt, the speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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