It All Started with My Daughter's Teacher

Tiffini Flynn Forslund carries her conviction from the Legislature to the courts

Tiffini Flynn Forslund is a mother of three from Minneapolis. She’s also the named plaintiff in Forslund v. MN, in which four Minnesota mothers are challenging the constitutionality of state laws around seniority-based teacher layoffs that negatively impact low-income students and students of color. She is currently running for City Council in Minneapolis Ward 6 and took a break in between campaigning to talk with us about her experience advocating to reform LIFO (last in, first out) firing practices in Minnesota.

How did you first get involved in Forslund v. MN?

It all started with my daughter’s teacher getting a top teaching award and being let go. It just made no sense to me that the best teacher my kids ever had would get fired. So, I wrote to the Minnesota Department of Education and to the school board and they told me that that’s just how the system works. I didn’t let it go and eventually connected with Students First and we worked on a bill that passed through the MN Legislature to do away with seniority-based layoffs, but Governor Dayton vetoed it. I continued to be an advocate and eventually connected with Students for Education Reform and Partners for Educational Justice who got me involved as a plaintiff.

Why is this lawsuit necessary?

Well, it would have been great if the Governor hadn’t vetoed our legislation in 2012. We needed to take this issue to the courts because our politicians don’t have the bravery to do what’s right for kids.

The four parent plaintiffs of Forslund v. MN (left to right): Bonnie Dominguez, Tiffini Flynn Forslund, Roxanne Draughn, Justina Person

The four parent plaintiffs of Forslund v. MN (left to right): Bonnie Dominguez, Tiffini Flynn Forslund, Roxanne Draughn, Justina Person

How do you respond to individuals who say that this is just union busting?

It’s not at all about getting rid of the union; it’s about restructuring the process because it’s not working for students. It speaks to the education opportunity gap that has always existed. Kids of color aren’t getting an equal education and they don’t see themselves reflected in their teachers. And we’re struggling to recruit teachers of color. The fact that administrators don’t see that makes no sense to me. It costs so much money to go through school and get your teaching license. There are so many people who are born teachers, but they can’t afford it, and our kids are loosing out. So, you’re a new teacher, you get into the public school system and you’re trying to get acclimated. Then comes April with the budget cuts and you’re gone, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how good of a teacher you were. All of this turnover hurts kids too.

How did you feel when the district court judge dismissed the case last year?

In another side of my advocacy work, I spent a lot of time in family court. I’ve been in enough court hearings to know to not go in with an expectation. So, I was not overly surprised. In my heart, I felt that the judge really didn’t get the big picture of this issue and [our attorney] was so supportive. So, we knew right away that we were going to regroup and appeal.

Is there an experience through this lawsuit that has been particularly meaningful to you?

To me, the whole thing is an achievement. It’s extremely meaningful to me. Because of my personality, people always come to me to ask me to help them. Now, I’m finding that my passions are driving me. When I’m following my passion with strong conviction, people get it. I’m committed to this cause and that’s what carries me.