Trial begins over UMD licensure problems
The lawsuit brought against the University of Minnesota Duluth by 13 alumni over a teacher licensure issue has resulted in a jury trial expected to begin Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court. The former students, who graduated from UMD in ...
The lawsuit brought against the University of Minnesota Duluth by 13 alumni over a teacher licensure issue has resulted in a jury trial expected to begin Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court.
The former students, who graduated from UMD in December of 2014, have alleged fraud and misrepresentation by UMD in connection with compliance problems within the College of Education and Human Service Professions' integrated elementary and special education (IESE) program.
The alumni are seeking $506,000 in damages related to lost wages, benefits and other out-of-pocket expenses, and between $25,000 and $50,000 each in damages related to reputation issues, totaling up to $1.1 million.
The students, along with several others, failed to receive standard teaching licenses upon graduating because the program was not in compliance with the state Board of Teaching. They claim that UMD withheld information about the problem from students, and that measures taken by the university after the fact weren't effective.
The students weren't given "real time" information, and it took several months after graduation for those students to obtain licenses, said Meg Kane, an attorney for the alumni.
"Nobody (at UMD) was disciplined ... nobody is responsible. There was a bunch of finger-pointing," she said.
UMD officials reported that an internal investigation was done, and have publicly accepted responsibility, saying students should have been alerted sooner. But the university has never fully explained the lapse, calling it a human resources issue.
Regarding the eight-day trial, UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams said in a statement Tuesday: "We do not comment on active litigation, and expect the trial to bring a successful conclusion to this matter. Our education programs are fully approved and producing quality graduates and teachers."
Changes were made by the state teaching board in 2013 to education requirements that affected UMD's unique dual licensure IESE program. The UMD education department didn't document its updates, which resulted in the state "disapproving" the program.
UMD was notified of the lapse in the fall of 2014, it has said. The university then failed to submit paperwork that would get the program back on track in time for a January meeting of the teaching board, facing a monthslong review process to regain state approval. That left two dozen December graduates unable to obtain standard licenses. The affected students were given the opportunity to obtain temporary licenses if they had a job offer, which made it hard for some graduates to obtain jobs.
Kane said Tuesday that the affected students missed a hiring cycle while they waited for the situation to be sorted out.
"They lost jobs, were told outright that if you don't have a license, you can't have a job," she said, with others starting jobs later than they potentially could have, losing months of building tenure.
UMD's teacher licensure programs have been back in good standing with the Board of Teaching for more than a year. Most of them had been suspended for review after the IESE issue led to discovery of other documentation errors.
UMD has said it has created an accreditation office within the college to prevent future lapses.
The College of Education and Human Service Professions remains accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, with the next site visit scheduled this fall.