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A Minnesota Court Rules Pre-Kindergarten Instructors Should Be Excluded From A Teacher Collective Bargaining Unit

May 25, 2016

For many Michigan school districts, pre-kindergarten instructors are usually included in a teacher/professional collective bargaining unit. The state of Minnesota has adopted a contrary viewpoint. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a school district could exclude pre-kindergarten instructors from its teacher collective bargaining unit. Independent School District No. 622 v North St. Paul Maplewood Oakdale Education Association, No. A15-1164 (Minn. Ct. App., May 16, 2016). The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services (Minnesota's equivalent to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC)) which ruled that instructors in a school district's pre-kindergarten program should not be included in a teacher bargaining unit. Initially, the school district did require teachers assigned to teach in its pre-kindergarten program to hold a state teaching license, but after two years the school district eliminated this requirement for pre-kindergarten instructors. The school district excluded its pre-kindergarten instructors from the teacher bargaining unit, and the education association challenged this decision by filing a clarification petition. 

Minnesota's Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELA) specified that an appropriate bargaining unit for a school district was one that included all teachers in the district. Thus, a key issue was the definition of "teacher." Since, by state law, pre-kindergarten instructors were not required to be licensed, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that pre-kindergarten instructors did not fit the definition of teacher. The Minnesota court rejected the education association's other arguments, including that pre-kindergarten instructors had to be licensed under federal law pursuant to Title I programs. The court determined that only teachers working in a Title I preschool program must meet Title I requirements for a highly qualified teacher. This requirement did not apply to the actual pre-kindergarten instructors. Since pre-kindergarten instructors were not required to be licensed by state or federal law, or by the school district's board of education's policies and requirements, the pre-kindergarten instructors did not satisfy the definition of teacher and, therefore, were properly excluded from the collective bargaining unit. 

Although it is uncertain whether the Minnesota decision would be followed by MERC and Michigan courts, school districts should consider state licensing requirements for pre-kindergarten instructors as they evaluate their placement in the appropriate collective bargaining unit. If you have any questions regarding this decision, please contact your Clark Hill education practice group attorney.

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