Court declines to exempt charters from school segregation case

Lead plaintiff Alejandro Cruz-Guzman, second from left, and his children pose in the Minnesota Judicial Center after oral arguments before the state Supreme Court in January 2018. Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News 2018

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The Hennepin County District Court this week decided not to exempt Minnesota charter schools from a lawsuit aimed at addressing school segregation.

The Cruz-Guzman case claims that persistent school segregation effectively denies Minnesota children an adequate education.

Several charter schools sought to be exempted from whatever ruling might be made in the case, but a judge on Monday decided not to exempt them.

Daniel Shulman, who represents the plaintiffs, said he was delighted by the decision.

"The impact is that the charter schools don't get a free pass here," Shulman said. "They've asked the judge basically to say that they can't be held accountable for the contribution they've made to segregation. And the judge wouldn't do that, as I think was correct."

• Listen: Charter school advocates push back on segregation claims • Jan. 2018: School desegregation case goes to state Supreme Court

Nekima Levy-Armstrong, who represents the charter schools involved in the case, said her clients are disappointed but not surprised by Judge Susan Robiner's decision.

"Our clients have done an incredible job providing culturally affirming environments for students and also outstanding educational opportunities," she said. "And we want to ensure that, regardless of the outcome of this litigation, their rights will be protected, that their ability to educate students will be protected, and that the choices of parents — particularly parents of color — will also be protected."

Two of the charter schools Levy-Armstrong represents say their student body is over 90 percent black, according to the court order filed Monday. Levy-Armstrong said the concern is that refusing to exempt her clients from whatever decision the court eventually makes means that those schools may not be able to continue their work.

"One of the main things that we are seeking to do is to ensure that we protect the rights of the charter school intervenors, who are our clients, to be able to continue to deliver high-quality educational opportunities to their student populations — and particularly students of color," Levy-Armstrong said.

The court hasn't yet made a final decision in the overall case, and the parties are engaged in mediation.

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