Judge holds Minnesota Board of Teaching in contempt of court

- The Minnesota Board of Teaching is in contempt of court. A Ramsey County judge made the unusual order on Friday, July 1, saying her “patience is at an end.”

The contempt order criticizes the board for not following another order from the judge six months ago. On December 31, 2015, Judge Shawn Bartsh blasted the state’s Board of Teaching for suddenly stopping a program that allowed experienced teachers, often from out of state, to get teaching licenses through an alternate method called “licensure via portfolio.” The judge ordered the agency to resume the program, as required by law.

In the contempt order, the judge wrote the board “had no excuse for not contacting” one of the teachers attempting to get a license. “The Court does not take the granting of sanctions lightly and would far have preferred [the board] to simply follow the law,” Judge Bartsh concluded the order.

Nathan Sellers, one of the attorneys for the teachers, told Fox 9 the order was “rare,” and that it was “even rarer to see a state district court hold a state agency in contempt of court.”

“It’s really frustrating for the nineteen plaintiffs in this case, as well as teachers around the state. We have a well-documented teacher shortage and shortage of high-qualified teachers. We have one of the country’s largest achievement gaps,” Sellers said. “And yet, rather than doing its job and helping these highly qualified teachers get licenses, the Board of Teaching is refusing to provide the statutorily mandated procedure.”

The “licensure via portfolio” program started in 2004 was an attempt to reduce the achievement gap in Minnesota between white and minority students. 531 teachers received licenses through this channel, but the program stopped in 2012. And a lawsuit followed.

The teachers suing are represented pro bono by Nathan Sellers of Fabyanske, Westra, Hart & Thomson, and by Rhyddid Watkins of Faegre Baker Daniels.

In the contempt order, the judge ordered the board to pay a a fine to one of the teachers in the amount of $250, and to pay $6,750 worth of attorneys’ fees.

“As a Minnesota taxpayer, I’m frustrated because, rather than using their limited resources to license highly qualified teachers, the Board of Teaching is actively resisting a court order, and as a result, is incurring thousands of dollars in civil penalties,” Sellers told Fox 9.

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