In an interview on Friday, the president and the vice president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers proudly defended a contract made with Minneapolis Public Schools that adds protections for teachers of color in the case of district-wide layoffs.
“This contract language was something that we are, first of all, extremely proud of for achieving but it also doesn’t go far enough,” said Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) on GMA3. “We need to support and retain our educators, especially those who are underrepresented, and this language does one tiny, minuscule step towards that but doesn’t solve the real crisis we’re in right now.”
When asked why the contract has made headlines, the MFT vice president, Marcia Howard, blamed it on “the MAGA media.”
“This is the language that we put in, that we went out and marched for,” explained Howard. “We voted on this, the district and the union agreed upon this and now it’s coming out because some Minnesotan website decided to put it out there and the MAGA media picked it up and they were waiting for mainstream media to run with this story. It’s a non-story. It was language about the event of a layoff and we are nowhere near having layoffs this year. We’re down like 250 teachers…There are no layoffs. So I ask y’all why? Why is this a story?”
The agreement between the teachers’ union and the school district came after a three-week teacher strike in March where educators asked for higher teacher pay, more mental health services for students, and smaller class sizes. Close to 76% of the union voted in favor of the new contract which ended the strike. The district said it has struggled to hire a staff that reflects the ethnic diversity of students.
“To remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers mutually agreed to contract language that aims to support the recruitment and retention of teachers from underrepresented groups as compared to the labor market and to the community served by the school district,” said a spokesperson for MPS.
The contract gives an exception to the seniority-based method (last-in, first out) that allows teachers of color to be protected from layoffs. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate the seniority policy but enables teachers of color to be retained. Additionally, the contract provides mentors for teachers of color and an anti-racist council designed to “[reduce] inequitable practices and behaviors in our learning places and spaces as well as supporting educators.”
According to Minneapolis Public Schools, fewer teachers of color are tenured than white teachers. The district also reports that last year 65% of students were of color, whereas only 30% of teachers were of color.
Tra Carter, a former behavioral specialist at Clara Barton Community School, applauded the new policy.
“Black and brown educators of color are losing their jobs exponentially faster than their white counterparts, so I’m happy again that something got done,” said Carter.
“But I don’t think that it’s ever going to be enough,” he went on. “I think one of the first steps that the district needs to do is to begin hiring more educators of color and helping those educators that are already in the schools who don’t have those teaching licenses or who don’t have those degrees, helping those educators so that they can then be in that community.”
However, critics have called the policy outright discriminatory, and even accused it of being a violation of the 14th Amendment.
“It’s illegal, it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment,” civil rights attorney Leo Terrell told Fox News Digital. “You’re using race as a criteria to lay off individuals. It’s illegal. It’s unconstitutional.”
Terrell predicted it won’t take long for the policy to be challenged in court, even making its way to the Supreme Court.
“I never looked at skin color [when in school],” said Terrell. “I looked at whether or not an individual could teach me.”
An attorney in Minneapolis, James Dickey, said he’s gotten a “flood of emails” from taxpayers and teachers who are seeking to legally challenge the policy. He said his firm could soon be “prepared to go forward with litigation.”
Dickey added that the issue with teaching staff has nothing to do with seniority or race. Instead, he said teachers should be kept based on merit.
“Teachers are not being evaluated based on merit, they’re being evaluated based on first in and last out. And I think that’s the bigger problem,” Dickey said.
In response to the growing tensions, Greta Callahan stated that Minneapolis is short 300 teachers and that the policy won’t kick in until 2023, so she said no one’s job is under attack.
What do you think about the new policy that was agreed upon by Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers?