Minnesota Supreme Court Issues Favorable Ruling for Charter Schools

On Dec. 13, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that racial imbalances in Twin Cities schools do not violate Minnesota’s Constitution, a decision which largely upheld an earlier ruling from the Minnesota Appeals Court. Yesterday’s ruling in the long-running Cruz-Guzman lawsuit against the state sets the legal parameters for the case in Hennepin County District Court.

“We hold that racial imbalances in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, standing alone, are not sufficient to establish a violation of the Education Clause,” Associate Justice Margaret Chutich wrote in the majority opinion. The plaintiffs don’t have to prove the state caused the segregation, but “they must prove that racially imbalanced schools are a substantial factor in causing their children to receive an inadequate education.”

The high-profile school desegregation case was initially brought on by seven Twin Cities families who alleged that schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul districts are effectively segregated and fail to create equitable learning environments for students. Taft Minneapolis litigation partner Jack Perry and associate Brayanna Smith represented three charter schools (the “intervenors”) — Higher Ground Academy, Friendship Academy of the Arts, and Paladin Career & Technical Center, in this case.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether educational adequacy is to be determined by racial demographics alone — i.e., without regard for how the demographics came about, including without a required showing of discriminatory intent. If yes (as argued by the plaintiffs but opposed by the state and charter school intervenors, and rejected by the lower courts), then parent choice and culturally affirming educational instruction are necessarily secondary to the primary focus of racial demographics and they effectively go away. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that racial imbalances are not sufficient, standing alone, to establish a violation of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution. It further held and provided clarity that to prevail on a claim alleging a violation of the Education Clause based on racial imbalance, it must be established that the racial imbalances are a substantial factor in causing children to receive an inadequate education.

Perry is a senior trial lawyer and litigator, specializing in high-stakes litigation and regulatory compliance matters across a broad array of sectors.

Smith is an attorney in Taft’s Commercial Litigation practice, focusing on general business litigation and complex commercial disputes.

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