FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Levy-Pounds to continue her work as an advocate for Minnesota families by fighting to give every child the opportunity to learn from a great teacher
Click here for a full bio of Nekima Levy-Pounds
Minneapolis, MN – Today, Nekima Levy-Pounds, civil rights attorney and social justice advocate, announced she is joining Forslund v. Minnesota as co-counsel representing the four plaintiff parents – Tiffini Flynn Forslund of Minneapolis, Justina Person of Eagan, Bonnie Dominguez of Duluth, and Roxanne Draughn of St. Paul – fighting to level the playing field for all children in Minnesota public schools. The plaintiffs’ legal team also includes attorneys from Fishman Haygood, LLP and Bassford Remele.
President of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP and award-winning law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Ms. Levy-Pounds has long been a leading voice speaking out against inequalities faced by communities of color in the Twin Cities, including the disparities in public schools serving large numbers of students of color. Her support for this lawsuit as co-counsel reinforces its standing as the only recourse for families who are left feeling powerless with no means to challenge the continued employment of ineffective teachers.
“I am proud to join the legal team representing the plaintiffs of Forslund v. Minnesota because parents are the best advocates to stand up against a public education system that is failing Minnesota children, especially our children of color,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds. “Too often, the voices of those most harmed by the status quo are left without a seat at the table, but this time we will be heard. I am fighting on behalf of these four families, and all Minnesota families, because our public schools are not providing equal opportunities for educational success. We are calling on the courts to ensure that every Minnesota child is granted their right to equal protection under the law.”
Minnesota public schools have one of the largest educational disparities in the country, with low-income students and students of color falling far behind their white and more affluent peers. Yet Minnesota state statutes enable persistently ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom, denying students their constitutionally-protected right to a uniform and thorough education. Forslund v. Minnesota is grounded in a body of research showing that the key determinant of a child’s educational advancement is teacher quality and effectiveness. The state’s current teacher tenure, dismissal, and “Last in, First Out” seniority-based layoff laws harm students by preserving the state’s debilitating achievement gap.
“We’re honored to welcome Nekima Levy-Pounds to the legal team representing the plaintiff families in Forslund v. Minnesota,” said Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director of Partnership for Educational Justice. “As an award-winning professor, Nekima sees firsthand the positive impact a great teacher can have on her students. And as a civil rights attorney, she knows systemic injustices too often deny opportunities for success. We’re proud that the plaintiff families have Nekima by their side in the fight for a high-quality education for all Minnesota students.”
“Nekima Levy-Pounds has always had our community’s best interests at heart,” said Latasha Gandy, Executive Director of Students for Education Reform–Minnesota. “Her presence makes clear that this action is about civil rights and justice for children of color and low-income children. We’re proud Nekima is joining us and standing with parents who have taken on Minnesota’s education system for leaving so many children behind.”
About Nekima Levy-Pounds
Nekima Levy-Pounds is an award-winning professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School, a civil rights attorney, and a nationally recognized expert on a range of civil rights and social justice issues at the intersections of race, public policy, economic justice, public education, juvenile justice, and the criminal justice system. She was elected President of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP in May 2015.
In her role at the University of St. Thomas Law School, she serves as the founding director of the Community Justice Project, an award-winning civil rights legal clinic, which focuses on issues of race, poverty, and social justice through direct advocacy, research, and writing at the University of St. Thomas. She is also co-founder and board chair of Brotherhood, Inc., a nonprofit organization geared towards young African American men ages 16-24, who have been involved in the criminal justice system or gangs or who are at risk of such involvement.
Ms. Levy-Pounds also serves as the chair of the Minnesota State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is the co-chair of Everybody In, a regional collaboration of over 40 stakeholders across different sectors working to close the racial unemployment gaps in the region by 2020. Ms. Levy-Pounds is active in the local community, serving on the boards of the Minneapolis Foundation, Catholic Charities, the African American Museum, and Growth & Justice.
Key Points in Forslund v. Minnesota
Forslund v. Minnesota asserts that the challenged statutes prevent school leaders from meaningfully considering student outcomes when making decisions regarding teacher employment and dismissals. As a result, Minnesota’s schools are retaining ineffective teachers who are preventing students from achieving an equal and high quality education. There are three basic problems:
- Minnesota’s teacher tenure provisions require administrators to determine permanent employment for teachers after only three years. This insufficient amount of time creates a process that is more of a formality, rather than an assessment of a teacher’s potential for long-term effectiveness. As a result, students, parents, and school leaders are left with no effective methods by which to challenge the employment of an ineffective teacher.
- Dismissal policies in Minnesota school districts make it nearly impossible to efficiently remove an ineffective teacher from the classroom, even after these teachers have long demonstrated to be ineffective. With nowhere to turn, school districts across the state have resorted to expensive negotiated “buyouts” to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. In the absence of the current dismissal laws, Minnesota teachers would retain the due process rights available to all public employees, which include the right to notice of ineffective classroom performance, the right to challenge the evidence of ineffective performance, and the right for the teacher to tell her or his side of the story.
- The “last in, first out” mandate forces administrators to layoff teachers based on seniority rather than quality. This process completely disregards a teacher’s performance in the classroom and denies students access to a quality education by laying off effective teachers and keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom.
A full copy of the plaintiffs’ complaint is available here.
About Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Educational Reform – Minnesota
Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ)
PEJ is a nonprofit organization pursuing impact litigation that empowers families and communities to advocate for great public schools through the courts. In 2014, PEJ began working with families across New York to launch and support Wright v. New York, challenging teacher employment statutes that allow ineffective and harmful teachers to remain in the classroom. The Wright v. New York plaintiffs have won two separate motions to dismiss the case and are currently fighting the defendants’ appeals of these decisions.
PEJ is committed to ensuring that every child has equal access to a quality education and looks to offer families a pathway to educational justice through the courts, especially when legislative efforts have failed to do so. In Minnesota, as in New York, PEJ has connected families with pro bono legal representation and is providing ongoing legal support while elevating parent voices through supported outreach and media relations.
Students for Education Reform – Minnesota (SFER-Minn)
SFER-Minn organizes students and families to fight for educational justice in their communities. Their members identify issues that are driving inequities in the education they receive, share their stories, and push for lasting policy change on campus, in the community, at the Capitol, and – when necessary, in the courts – to ensure every child in Minnesota receives an equitable education. Other current SFER-Minn efforts include addressing Minnesota’s broken remedial education system, promoting statewide standards and oversight for how police work in schools, and monitoring local school board performance.
Partnership for Educational Justice: Melody Meyer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Students for Education Reform-Minnesota: Kate Sattler, email@example.com