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Minnesota Board of Teaching Held in Contempt of Court

A Minnesota state court judge has had it with the state's board of teaching, an 11-member panel responsible for licensing teachers.

Seven months ago, Ramsey County District Court Judge Shawn M. Bartsh ruled that the board had been violating a 2008 state law that requires it to run an alternative teacher-licensing program for out-of-state teachers. At the time Bartsh wrote that the board's decision to stop the program was "at best, ignoring the law, and at worse, disingenuous." 

Despite that ruling, however, the board still isn't accepting applicants for the program, and last week Bartsh wrote that her "patience is at an end" and held that the board was in contempt of court, reports KMSP, the Twin Cities' Fox Affiliate.

"The Court does not take the granting of sanctions lightly and would far have preferred Defendant to simply follow the law," Bartsh wrote in the contempt order, reports the Star Tribune.

In April, the plaintiffs in the case, a group of teachers looking to take advantage of the licensure-via-portfolio program, went back to court contending that their applications were still being ignored. Under the program, out-of-state teachers are supposed to be able to appeal to the state to grant them licensure based on their experience and training.

The program was started in 2004 to get more highly qualified teachers in Minnesota classrooms as part of an effort to meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind law. It was later enshrined in state law in 2008.

According to Bartsh's December ruling, 531 teachers got licenses this way between 2004 and 2011. But in 2012, the teaching board halted the program without explanation.

According to Rhyddid Watkins, an attorney for the plaintiffs, the law was also seen as a way to close the state's wide achievement gaps.

"We find gaps in every metric measuring students of color versus students, white students. It's truly tragic where those numbers lie. License via portfolio was created as a means to close that gap," Watkins told KMSP.

The teaching board's executive director Erin Doan contends that laws that divide teacher-licensing duties between the board and the state education department have complicated the running of the program, reports the Star Tribune. But Bartsh seems to have rejected that idea, ruling last December that the board was the "gatekeeper" of licenses.

Some observers see the board's hesitation as stemming from its relationship with college-based teacher-preparation programs, which it oversees. 

According to the Star Tribune, the contempt order requires the board to pay more than $7,000 in fees.

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