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Lawsuit to forcibly desegregate Twin Cities schools moves closer to trial

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Some 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools for black and white kids was inherently unfair, public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul are still woefully segregated.

This claim, made by a group of seven parents and caregivers for Twin Cities students, is the focus of a class action lawsuit filed against the state of Minnesota last November. 

The suit, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota,  blames the state for depriving kids of color of a quality education by allowing segregation in schools to persist. As of last week, parents upset with school segregation in the Twin Cities are one step closer to having their day in court.  

The state asked Judge Susan M. Robiner to dismiss the claims. Robiner declined last week, allowing the case to move forward.

“Judge Robiner’s ruling validates our perspective and recognizes the foundation of our claim that students in the Twin Cities face segregation in the schools and, as a result, suffer in an unfair and a sub-standard education environment,” says Gray Plant Moody attorney Dan Shulman, lead attorney on behalf of the parents and caregivers. “Beyond providing a better education for everyone, desegregation leads to a better understanding among diverse communities and can ultimately help to prevent the escalating violence our nation is experiencing.”

Much of the segregation in today’s schools isn’t government-mandated, but voluntary. Lots of Minnesota parents prefer to send their kids to cultural immersion charter schools, like those specifically set apart for Somali or Hmong students, where nearly all students belong to a single ethnic group. And community schools, a point of pride for some inner city neighborhoods, reflect the exact demographic makeup of the city's neighborhoods — integrated or, more often, not. 

Desegregating schools in the 1950s took battalions of soldiers.

Desegregating schools in the 1950s took battalions of soldiers.

If successful, the lawsuit could pose an existential threat to charter schools and neighborhood schools. Robiner, the judge, also denied charter schools’ pleas for exemption from the case.

Others worried that the lawsuit's success would force long-distance busing, especially for students of color, who would be taken from schools blocks from home and shuttled to white-majority schools to become that school's "token" diversity.

The plaintiffs of the Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota denies that their lawsuit has anything to do with busing, or money.

"Today, virtually all children in the Twin Cities are bused to schools; but they are bused to segregated schools," Shulman said in a statement. "We will change that... Let there be no confusion. This lawsuit is committed to ensuring a high quality, appropriate, non-racist, and desegregated education for all children. It is about equality; it is about ensuring that the power structure of this society does not continue to separate children by their skin color, their family income, or their last names."