Minnesota Court of Appeals rejects tenure challenge again

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday again rejected a lawsuit alleging that teacher tenure and seniority rights in public schools saddle students of color with ineffective teachers and therefore violate those students’ right to an adequate education.
The state Supreme Court last year told the appeals court to reconsider its 2017 dismissal of the lawsuit by four parents in light of a fresh high court ruling in a desegregation lawsuit that expanded the ability of courts to intervene if students are deprived of their right to an adequate education, which is guaranteed under the Minnesota Constitution.
But a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals stood by the earlier decision that the tenure lawsuit should be dismissed. The court concluded that even in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the lawsuit still failed to establish that tenure and seniority-based layoff protections for teachers violate students’ constitutional rights. The appeals court also noted that the California Supreme Court in 2016 let that state’s teacher protections stand.
Tiffini Forslund and three other parents of public school students sued Minnesota in 2016, saying the state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws made it all but impossible for schools to fire bad teachers. They pointed to the state’s persistent achievement gaps for minority and poor children compared with white students from wealthier families. And they said tenure laws that protect ineffective teachers and seniority-based layoff requirements that don’t spare good teachers with less experience stood in the way of narrowing those gaps.
They were backed by the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group founded by former CNN and NBC host Campbell Brown, which has been behind similar challenges in New York and New Jersey. The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected a teacher quality lawsuit there in December. The New York case is still pending.
Alissa Bernstein, PEJ’s executive director, said the group is disappointed at the Minnesota outcome.
Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, called the lawsuit a misguided attempt “to strip away the protections that allow educators to speak out” on what’s happening in their schools without fear of being fired.
The Minnesota Legislature in 2017 modified the state law mandating reliance on seniority when schools cut teachers in the absence of more specific labor contract provisions, but local contracts can still make seniority a determining factor.
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Corrects day of ruling to Tuesday instead of Monday.

Bill requiring hands-free phones for drivers passes 1st test

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A bill to require motorists to use hands-free devices when talking on the phone while driving passed its first committee stop in the Minnesota Legislature on Tuesday after lawmakers heard emotional testimony from several people who lost loved ones in crashes caused by drivers who were distracted by cellphones.
“Members, if we just save one life through passage of this bill, we will have done our jobs. But the data shows we’ll be saving many more than just one life,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, the House transportation committee chairman and chief sponsor of the bill, said before his panel approved the measure on a unanimous voice vote.
Legislative leaders have said they expect the bill will be enacted with bipartisan support relatively early in the session. It has at least one more committee stop before it reaches the House floor. A Senate committee has a hearing scheduled on a similar bill Wednesday, as well as a separate bill that would steeply increase fines for texting while driving and treat distracted motorists more like drunken drivers when they seriously injure or kill someone.
Greg LaVallee showed lawmakers a large photo of his son, Phillip, who was 19 when he was killed by a distracted driver in 2013 in Otsego. He said his son was an honors student and runner at South Dakota State University, and was generous about helping competitors. He had hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team so he would run 50 to 60 miles per week.
LaVallee said Phillip was on a training run on a sunny day on a flat, straight road when a driver on the phone crossed the centerline, drove through traffic that was moving in the opposite direction, traveled onto the far shoulder of the road, and struck him from behind. He said there were no signs that the driver braked or tried to steer to avoid him.
“Our cars are safer, our roads are safer, everything is safer but drivers are not,” he said. “They’re driving off the road. And instead of just injuring someone — because they’re doing it at full speed — they’re killing someone.”
Thomas Goeltz testified about his daughter, Megan, and his unborn grandson being killed in 2016 in Stillwater by a distracted driver who veered across traffic and slammed into his daughter’s vehicle, which was stopped at a stop sign. Goeltz said he now has a 6-year-old granddaughter who is growing up without a mother.
He said when traveling for business, which he often does, he would tell the granddaughter that he’d wave to her when flying over her house so she could wave back.
“And you know what she said to me shortly after her mother died?” Goeltz said, his voice choking up. “She said: ‘Papa, don’t wave. When you’re in the clouds bring Mama back down for me, OK?'”
The Department of Public Safety says at least 27 of the state’s approximately 380 traffic deaths last year were related to distractions of all kinds. Experts testified that cellphone use is the fastest-growing distraction, causing a rising number of deaths and injuries.
Paul Aasen, president of the Minnesota Safety Council, said 16 other states and the District of Columbia already have hands-free laws. Truckers are already restricted to hands-free devices under federal law. Most of the 16 other states have seen large reductions in fatalities, he testified, averaging 16 percent.
“If you take a look at the number of fatalities we have in this state, and if we can get a 16 percent decrease in the year that follows implementing hands-free, that’ll be about 55 people whose deaths could have been prevented,” he said.

Omar calls for end to shutdown, blames Trump

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota called Tuesday for an end to the partial federal government shutdown, accusing President Donald Trump of holding the salaries of federal workers “hostage” so he can build a “symbol of hate,” a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Omar , a Somali-American who is a former refugee herself, gathered people affected by the shutdown , now in its 32nd day, and immigration policies for a news conference at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The Democrat who was first elected to Congress last year accused Republicans of trying to delegitimize government for decades. She says hundreds of thousands of people have now gone over a month without pay because she says Trump chose to shut down government over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Millions more are going without basic services like civil rights enforcement or immigration proceedings or even food inspection — all because the president has chosen to shut down the government over his wall,” Omar said. She also criticized Trump for pushing for what she called a “racist wall” on the southern border, and she called on Trump to “end your temper tantrum” and reopen government so the U.S. can then debate immigration policy.
“He thinks he can hold the salaries of hundreds of thousands of federal workers hostage to build this symbol of hate. Well, we’re here to say, ‘No way,'” Omar said.
Trump has said a wall would foil dangerous activity happening at the border.
Security screeners are among federal workers going without pay, and as worker absences have crept up, so have wait times.
Among those speaking against the government shutdown was Neal Gosman, 72, of St. Paul, a Transportation Security Administration screener at the Minneapolis airport. The average wait time there stretched to 41 minutes on Saturday — the longest in the country that day, according to the TSA.
“Every day, we are asked to look in bags for explosives, we are asked to look for weapons. We do this unpaid when we’ve been coming in,” Gosman said. “I think it’s only fair that we be paid the money that we earn every day. We, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and other folks that make this country safe and secure, we don’t get that much money, but we should be paid.”
Nick Pladson, acting director of the Minneapolis office of the U.S. Economic Employment Opportunity Commission, told reporters almost everyone in his office has filed for unemployment.
“Everybody is concerned about when we’re going back to work, when the next paycheck is coming, and how we’re going to pay mortgages that are coming due, at least for me, in the coming month,” Pladson said.
Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, says fellow Democrats should approve Trump’s request for wall funding. “Give Trump the money,” Peterson told KFGO Radio . “Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”
Elsewhere, a town hall meeting held Tuesday by Rep. Tom Emmer in Ramsey was dominated by frustration over the shutdown. The Star Tribune reported that most of the attendees vocally opposed Trump and his plans for a border wall, with several booing and talking over Emmer, a Republican who represents a swath of Minnesota from the northwest suburbs toward St. Cloud.
Janine Smullen of Big Lake said her family has had to cut back as her husband, a chief inspector for the Federal Railroad Administration, has been working without pay.
“We used to go out to dinner once a week, and we’re not going out to dinner,” Smullen told the Star Tribune afterward. “So the ripple effects of all this is huge. And it’s incredibly stressful … We have savings. A lot of these guys don’t. What do we do when the savings run out?” Smullen asked.

$23M redevelopment project proposed in Mankato in doubt

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — The future of one of the biggest redevelopment proposals in Mankato history is uncertain because of questions about financing.
The Southern Minnesota Housing Partnership proposed a $23 million project to transform 5 acres of city-owned property near downtown into affordable housing, a day care and preschool building, supportive housing and park-like green space.
The City Council chose the proposal over two others last year because it addressed a shortage of working-class apartments, child care slots and housing with support services for families at risk of homelessness.
“Here’s where we have a need, and we need to address it,” Council President Mike Laven said at the time.
He said the project to transform the former Public Works Department site also would add “vibrancy” to a parkway the city created through a former industrial area more than a decade ago to revitalize the area just southwest of Mankato’s city center.
However, a critical piece of financing fell through last fall when the project failed to earn federal tax credits aimed at promoting construction of affordable housing, The Free Press of Mankato reported. It’s doubtful that the project can proceed without the credits, according to City Manager Pat Hentges.
“We’ll either have to extend (the proof-of-financing deadline) or start over,” he said.
City officials and the project developer are meeting this week.
“After meeting with them, we’ll have a clearer picture,” Community Development Director Paul Vogel said.
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Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

Dodge Center man charged in crash that killed woman, child

MANTORVILLE, Minn. (AP) — A Dodge Center man accused of distracted driving in a crash that killed a mother and daughter has been charged with two counts of criminal vehicular homicide.
Authorities allege 24-year-old Tanner Kruckeberg was using his cellphone when he rear-ended a stopped car on Highway 14 in Claremont last September.
Eight-year-old Emerson Harberts died at the scene. Her 43-year-old mother, Rachel Harberts, was taken off life support about a week later. Her 12-year-old son also was in the car and was seriously injured.
Kruckeberg is set to make his first court appearance on Feb. 13. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney, and a home telephone listing for him couldn’t be found.

Minnesota State Fair board OKs nearly $20M in improvements

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The board of managers of the Minnesota State Fair has approved nearly $20 million in improvements and maintenance projects for the fairgrounds.
Of that amount, $16 million is earmarked for a major new exhibit complex on the North End of the fairgrounds and $3.4 million for maintenance projects.
The North End development is under construction. The centerpiece is a new facility with a 12,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
Improvements and maintenance projects approved for the coming year include stall upgrades in the Swine Barn, installation of a new overheard cover for the Exercise Ring in the livestock area, and improvements to the restrooms in the Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum.
The board also approved a $1 increase in admission fees for the 2019 fair . Admission prices were last adjusted two years ago.

School where fans displayed Trump flag pulls out of MLK game

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota high school where fans displayed a President Donald Trump re-election flag has pulled out of a basketball invitational hosted by a Minneapolis school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day
The Jordan High School boys’ basketball team was scheduled to play Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School on Monday in the MLK Showcase at Minneapolis Roosevelt.
Some Jordan fans displayed a Trump banner when Roosevelt visited Jordan last week. Jordan is a rural, overwhelmingly white community. Roosevelt’s coach says his team is predominantly black.
Henry coach Jamil Jackson says organizers of the invitational were told Jordan feared something might happen to the players if they came to Roosevelt to play.
But Jordan Superintendent Matthew Helgerson says, “Fear was not our reason.”
Helgerson tells the Star Tribune in an email that the team did not want its presence at the event “to detract from the athletes.”
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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Minnesota high school gets $45K grant for food truck project

BYRON, Minn. (AP) — A high school in southeastern Minnesota has received a $45,000 grant to give students the experience of running a food truck business.
The Bush Foundation recently awarded Byron High School with the grant for the hands-on learning project, the Post-Bulletin reported.
Ryan Radke, the school’s family and consumer sciences teacher, proposed the idea, but later learned that a food truck would be too expensive to purchase.
“It will probably be more of a food trailer that we take places with a truck, as you get more bang for your buck on those,” Radke said.
Students will have control over what food to offer and which area the trailer should serve, according to Radke. But the school wants students to partner with local restaurants and use fresh vegetables and herbs grown in the agricultural department greenhouse, he added.
“Several community members have offered to donate time and money to help with this opportunity,” Radke said.
The project is designed to help students learn the intricacies of starting their own business, so they will also be responsible for networking and advertising.
Radke hopes the food trailer will be used in classes by spring 2020.
Byron Public Schools Superintendent Joey Page is supportive of the initiative.
“Creating startup businesses not only provides students with real-world ‘resume-ready’ learning experience but could, long-term, lead to an increase in growth and economic development in rural communities,” Page said. “Students will be equipped with the design thinking methodologies and foundational knowledge of running their own business, and we desire to foster and grow our nation’s next generation of entrepreneurs.”
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Information from: Post-Bulletin, http://www.postbulletin.com

Hundreds brave cold weather in Minnesota Women’s March

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Thousands of people who braved temperatures in the single digits made their way to the Minnesota State Capitol in the third annual Women’s March.
The Star Tribune reports that supporters carried signs and chanted slogans Saturday morning supporting an Equal Rights Amendment for women, gay rights, Planned Parenthood and Education Minnesota. Many of them wore pink hats that have become one of the symbols of the movement.
Several marchers were critical of the politics and personality of President Donald Trump.
St. Paul police estimated that about 4,000 people attended the rally at its peak.
Some local activists wanted Women’s March Minnesota to condemn leaders or officially severe ties with the national arm amid claims of mismanagement and that several of its high-profile co-chairs have expressed or endorsed anti-Semitic views.
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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com