Last week another group of parents joined the fight against unconstitutional laws that prevent their kids from getting the education they deserve. They filed a lawsuit in Minnesota, just as parents have done in California and New York, challenging teacher employment statutes that keep ineffective teachers in schools. These Minnesota parents are now part of a growing national movement. Parents across the country are demanding a better—at least, an equal—public education system for children.
But on the same day these parents went to court to enforce their children’s rights, an intermediate California court reversed a trial court victory for parents in that state. And now some are asking whether this latest California ruling will derail the cases of parents in New York and Minnesota.
The answer is no, and here’s why.
First, the California court’s decision describes serious problems in schools that no one should accept. The court called the facts of the public education system “troubling,” and said that the “challenged statutes inevitably lead to greater disruption at schools serving poor and minority students,” that it is “possible” that the challenged statutes “lead to a higher number of grossly ineffective teachers being in the educational system,” and that the evidence showed “deplorable staffing decisions . . . that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools.”
Just let that sink in for a moment. The California appellate court said in its decision that the status quo has “a deleterious impact on poor and minority students.”
The California plaintiff families know this reality all too well, which is why they have announced their resolve to take their fight to the California Supreme Court. Vergara v. California is far from over and the families who ignited this parent-led movement will have our unwavering support until the changes they demand are a reality in their schools.
But regardless of what happens in California, the cases in New York and Minnesota will proceed with full steam.
As a basic legal matter, these cases are challenging state laws in state courts, under state constitutions. In other words, a California court decision about California law and California schools applies only to California. A single decision by one court in one state will not dictate the path of this movement around the country.
And while all three cases fundamentally seek a high-quality and constitutional education for every child, the legal claims in each of these cases are different. For example, the New York case doesn’t have an equal protection challenge, which was cited as the basis for the recent California decision. And the Minnesota case is built on multiple legal theories that are specific to the constitution and laws in Minnesota.
What’s more, the facts of each of these cases are different – different plaintiffs with different circumstances; different data on students, teachers, and schools; different local workarounds to these unjust laws – and different facts can lead to different results.
But the most important reason that this movement will continue is because passionate, frustrated parents are driving it. These laws are hurting children, and a parent is a child’s greatest advocate. Parents are paying attention. Parents want a seat at the table. And parents are prepared to do what politics can’t get done.
Tiffini Flynn Forslund, the lead plaintiff of Forslund v. Minnesota, saw her children’s best teacher get fired simply because of seniority-based layoffs. It robbed her youngest child of the chance to learn from the teacher she described as outstanding, who had an enormous impact on her eldest daughter’s self-esteem and critical thinking. Tiffini complained to her school board, she wrote letters to elected officials and testified before the Minnesota legislature, but none of it led to change. Students can’t afford to lose a single day of quality education. And yet we’re watching the most inspiring, successful teachers lose their jobs just because of the date they came to a particular school district.
Teachers matter. Their impact has huge consequences for students and for our society. We would never choose a doctor based only on the date she was hired by a particular hospital, much less would we allow a surgeon with a history of malpractice to operate on a family member. Our standards for our children’s education must be just as high, and laws preventing excellence in our schools must be changed.
Partnership for Educational Justice was established as a nonprofit to help parents like the plaintiffs of Forslund v. Minnesota and Wright v. New York pursue education impact litigation when civic engagement or legislative lobbying hasn’t yielded change. We are advocating for a common sense rebalancing of teacher employment laws, not to remove all job protections for teachers, but to ensure that students’ constitutional rights are met.
Every child deserves the opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. This simple notion is the very heart of this national movement, and one state’s intermediate court will not stop parents from fighting until their children have access to the great schools they deserve.