March 13, 2019

Which Students and Schools Are in the Cruz-Guzman Lawsuit?

By Brandie Burris-Gallagher

For those following Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota—an ongoing lawsuit examining racial imbalance in Twin Cities schools—you might have missed an important update: The court determined which schools will and will not be included in the suit. In a November 2018 ruling, Hennepin County Judge Susan Robiner recognized that schools serving predominantly white or high- and middle-income children are contributing as much to racial and socioeconomic imbalance in local schools as schools serving predominantly students of color or children from low-income households.

First, a quick review: What is Cruz-Guzman all about?

In 2015, Alejandro Cruz-Guzman and six other families sued the state of Minnesota alleging that racially and socioeconomically homogenous Twin Cities schools deprive students of color their constitutional right to an “adequate” education. They have asked the court to decide (1) whether the Twin Cities racially imbalanced schools meet the legal definition of segregation, and (2) if so, whether such settings can nonetheless provide an adequate education.

We have blogged extensively about the case, and our concerns with how the case frames the question of education adequacy for students of color, largely ignoring questions of academic outcomes and agency for parents of color.

Now, the update: Who’s represented in Cruz-Guzman?

While just a few families initially filed the lawsuit, the November decision allowed the suit to move forward as a class action. In other words, the plaintiffs are now suing on behalf of a larger community—but not the entire community. In certifying the class, the court:

  • Rejected the plaintiffs’ proposal that all Minneapolis and St. Paul public students should be in the class, as that definition would have included students attending racially balanced schools and who therefore lack standing.
  • Clarified that the class includes students in all “racially imbalanced” schools: schools with “less than 20% or more than 60% minority students or students eligible for free-or-reduced-price meals.”Originally, the plaintiffs defined “racially imbalanced” schools only as schools serving predominantly students of color or students from low-income households. This implied that schools serving predominantly wealthy, white students are not problematic, and that sending small numbers of students of color into spaces that remain overwhelmingly white could be an acceptable solution. Rejecting the plaintiffs’ logic, the judge now requires the lawsuit to focus on all types of racial imbalance.
  • Approved the plaintiffs’ motion to exclude charter school students from the class. Because the plaintiffs argue that charter schools are contributing to racial imbalance, two charter schools—Friendship Academy and Higher Ground Academy—directly intervened in the case. Both schools are designed intentionally around the assets and needs of students of color, and seek the opportunity to demonstrate to the court that they are benefiting, not harming, the students at the heart of the case. Although students in charter schools are not in the class, Friendship Academy and Higher Ground Academy have been allowed to remain as intervenors, since the lawsuit’s outcome could still impact students and families seeking out charter schools.
So, which schools might be impacted?

Based on our understanding of the November decision, we expect that the case will now focus on a broader set of schools. Looking at the state’s 2018 student demographic information, predominantly white schools like Lake Harriet Lower and Lake Harriet Upper, both of which serve a student population that is 85 percent white, would also meet the definition of racially imbalanced. Four other Minneapolis schools would fall just under the threshold: Burroughs Community School (75 percent white), Hale Elementary School (74 percent white), Northrop Elementary (72 percent white), and Field Middle School (75 percent white).

Finally, who’s representing the parties?

There’s one more update: The intervening charter schools have added civil rights attorney and community leader Nekima Levy-Armstrong to their legal team. Additionally, due to the 2018 November election, Attorney General Keith Ellison is now representing the state.

On the horizon

The plaintiffs want the court to declare that, on principle, racially or socioeconomically imbalanced public schools are unconstitutional. While the ultimate goal is a remedy to address racial imbalance in the region’s schools, they have not asked for a specific remedy so far. Instead, the court would likely order the Minnesota Legislature to identify and implement a solution, though it is unclear what type of remedy the court might accept.

Hoping to avoid a lengthy trial, the court has ordered the parties to engage in mediation in summer 2019. If mediation is unsuccessful, trial is set to begin in late 2020. Keep checking our blog for updates.