Cruz-Guzman Case Background

In 2015, seven families sued the state, alleging that Minnesota has enabled school segregation in the Twin Cities metro area, and as a result, denied students of color their right under the Minnesota Constitution to an “adequate” education. The case has raised many questions about the intersection of school segregation and parent choice. Learn more about a case that could have a huge impact on kids and education justice in Minnesota.

The Cruz-Guzman Lawsuit: The Facts & Potential Repercussions for Parent Choice

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. The basic premise is that a school that serves predominantly students of color, by virtue of that fact alone, cannot be adequate.

Two Twin Cities charter schools that serve mostly children of color have intervened in the lawsuit. The intervening schools are working to ensure the case reflects the fact that some charter schools serve predominantly children of color—and are specifically designed to do so, with unique supports for students’ cultural, ethnic, and linguistic needs. This differs significantly from the forms of legal segregation advocates have spent decades working to combat. The racial makeup of each school is the result of parents’ individual choices, which are rightfully protected under the Minnesota law and the Constitution.

The plaintiffs’ claim that a segregated school setting is inherently inadequate is seemingly benign, even commendable. But in reality, it reinforces the kind of white-centered thinking that has long restricted the opportunities and agency of students and families of color building off the assumption that children of color can’t learn in schools without white children, and undermining the agency of families of color.

Centering Students of Color

The idea that a school that serves students of color cannot be adequate is wrong. In fact, many schools that serve predominantly, or even exclusively, students of color do much better than state and district averages for those students. Further, there’s plenty of evidence that, even in “integrated” settings, children of color are routinely and disproportionately identified for special education, removed from school through suspensions and expulsions, held to lower expectations, and less likely to be academically proficient. Quite simply, the whiteness of a school is not a proxy for education adequacy.

Any effort that places school integration as the be-all-end-all risks taking away historically underserved families’ hard-won power to choose where their children go to school. Any effort to integrate schools that would:

  • Restrict access to schools that currently serve children of color well,
  • Put the burden on families of color, or
  • Does not respect the experiences and outcomes of children of color is a step in the wrong direction.

Let’s Not Go Backward

Although there is still a lot of work to do, Minnesota has started chipping away at the idea that only families with means can access a school option that works for their children. And we’re seeing that when given the choice, many families of color are intentionally choosing schools that—similar to historically black colleges and universities—create both an academically rigorous and culturally-affirming learning environment for their children.

By taking a narrow view of how we support, affirm, and ensure academic excellence for students of color, the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit could take us backward. By making schools’ racial makeup the bottom line and stripping away choice from the very families who need it most, we are at risk of rolling back schools that are working well. Instead, let’s stop to listen and learn from these schools, respect the families who choose them, and protect the agency of families of color.