WALKER -- Beginning Monday, substitute teachers in the Crosby-Ironton School District will be licensed by the state or will not be teaching in the classroom.
The district agreed any substitute teachers not licensed by Monday will be reassigned to non-teaching duties until they are licensed in Minnesota. That was part of the agreement reached Wednesday afternoon between the school district and the teachers' union in the Cass County Courthouse in Walker.
The union was seeking a temporary restraining order, in part, to stop the district from employing what they termed were unqualified, unlicensed replacement teachers. On March 18, Crosby-Ironton School District Superintendent Linda Lawrie disputed the teachers' union contention that eight of 42 replacement teachers may not be licensed. At the time, she said replacement teachers were licensed.
Wednesday, Lawrie said she would not know until Monday how many substitute teachers would be affected by the agreement.
Harley Ogata, Education Minnesota general counsel, said there are six people teaching in the C-I school district who are not licensed and the status of two more remain unknown.
Stan Nagorski, Crosby-Ironton teachers' union president, said he was pleased with the results Wednesday.
"It maintains what we've been saying for months," Nagorski said.
A few minutes after 1 p.m., when the hearing was scheduled to begin, Cass County Judge John P. Smith asked to see counsel from both sides in his chambers. It began a series of meetings where counsel met with Smith and then discussed matters separately.
But nearly two hours later it appeared a court hearing would be necessary. Smith, who was dividing time between two court hearings, met with counsel again in his chambers. A short time later an agreement was announced in court.
"I'd like to say this settles the contract," Smith said of the strike.
Instead, the agreement resolved two of three main issues in the union's civil lawsuit to obtain a temporary restraining order against the school district. The lawsuit will continue with a hearing at a future date. But the temporary restraining order was withdrawn by the union.
Lawrie said she still thinks all the substitute teachers were qualified to teach. If the substitute teachers do not have their teaching license in Minnesota, Lawrie said it is a matter of timing and not of qualifications.
"They've done an excellent job," she said of substitute teachers.
The union alleged the district violated state law by refusing to provide public data, such as the names of replacement teachers, in a reasonable and timely manner.
With the agreement Wednesday, the district agreed to provide public information within two to five days, depending on the complexity of the request.
Names of public employees are public information once they have been determined to be finalists for a job. And finalists are those selected for interviews. In court documents, the district stated substitute teachers never became finalists because they were never selected for interviews. The substitute teachers were not interviewed by the superintendent or the school board.
"This is going to send shock waves and reverberations through the membership," Ogata said, of not interviewing replacement teachers. "Beyond the law, we are really talking about the welfare of our children in the state of Minnesota and these revelations are shocking."
The issue of pay was set aside for now. The union alleged the district was involved in unfair labor practices by paying replacement teachers $300 per day, nearly double the collective bargaining agreement for a starting wage.
The district said $300 per day is a fair rate of pay. Other reimbursement is commensurate with teachers' pay and with the hardship as substitute teachers during a strike, the district reported.
Gloria Olsen, an attorney for the school district, said the union dropping the temporary restraining order was good news for the district.
"It means the district will now focus on opening more grades and getting more students back to school," Olsen said.
C-I parent Mark Bill attended the court hearing. Bill has a 17-year-old son who is a C-I senior and a leader in choir. Bill said when they heard the choir was planning a trip to New York, both he and his wife went to the school to check on the teacher's qualifications and license. He said school officials refused to release the data, telling them at one point to talk to the union.
"Right now I'm very disappointed in the school board," Bill said, adding the board could resolve the strike, but seem to be absent in the discussion. "Right now the superintendent is running things."
Bill said in other school districts he knew substitute teachers had to have license in hand. And as far as hiring people without an interview, Bill questioned how many businesses did that.
"That's pretty scary when you send your kids there."
As the union and school district representatives were getting ready to leave the courtroom, Smith alluded to the unresolved strike and offered a suggestion.
"We do have meeting rooms here if you want to spend a little extra time."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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