Persistence, courage help students win big battles


The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota Newspapers, including the Morrison County Record.


Persistence, courage help students win big battles

Youth who lost a job due to COVID-19: Apply by Dec. 25

Here’s good news for Minnesota students and families in an update of several topics discussed earlier this year.

First, on Dec. 1, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Minnesota high school students ARE eligible for federal unemployment insurance if they lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Minnesota high school students, Youthprise (a statewide nonprofit) and others had been telling Department of Employment and Economic Development and legislators this for months. DEED disagreed.

The court overruled DEED.

Referring to DEED’s unemployment law judge (ULJ) and a high school student (the “relator”), judges unanimously concluded: “Based on our careful review of the parties submissions and arguments, and the relevant legal authorities, we hold that the ULJ erred by determining that relator is not a ‘covered individual’ under section 2102(a)(3) of the CARES Act. We therefore reverse the ULJ’s decision determining relator ineligible for PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) benefits.”

The decision is here.

Jen Gates of DEED responded on Dec. 3: “DEED has reviewed yesterday’s order from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We are awaiting the final opinion from the court.”

So will DEED Commissioner Steve Grove finally send money to students? Or will he stall? What will Gov. Tim Walz do to ensure students receive funds the court agrees they earned?

Cole Stevens, of Bloomington, one of the students who spoke with legislators and helped with the court case, explained: “We’re all sick and tired of being sick and tired of injustice and the powers that be. But this just goes to show that anyone can activate change on a large scale with teamwork and dedication. You don’t need lobbyists or a bunch of money!”

High school students who lost jobs during the pandemic should immediately apply for unemployment insurance. Youthprise urges students to do this by Dec. 25 or risk not receiving funds. Here’s how to apply.

Wokie Weah, Youthprise president, told me: “This case is an example of what young people can achieve when adults recognize and support their leadership. Many partners played a huge role in this success. We would like to offer special thanks to the Attorney General as well as Greg Merz from Lathrop GPM for his exceptional pro bono legal support.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote: “I’m happy this ruling means young people can now get the unemployment they need and deserve to support their families. The court’s ruling will make it easier for all Minnesotans to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect.”

There’s more good news. Cole and Hayat Muse attended district public schools. Co-student leaders Walter Cortina and Lincoln Bacal attended charters. They modeled what many Minnesotans voted for: constructive, collaborative action.

As other 2020 columns of mine explained, educators, community members and students also are working together to help dramatically reduce the number of families and youngsters experiencing homelessness. But a November draft report from several state agencies describes what more than 30 Minnesotans (including me) see as serious shortcomings in Minnesota’s efforts. For example, why did Minnesota aim to construct 45 rental housing units this year for those experiencing homelessness but complete none? We’ve asked for a response. I’ll write more about this in the future.

Another 2020 column described the dramatic growth of chartered public school enrollment — in suburban, greater Minnesota and urban communities. Some readers asked if that growth had continued during the pandemic. I checked with a sample of 102 Minnesota charters this fall and learned that enrollment, overall, increased by about 2,400 students. A new report explains why some Minnesota high school students chose chartered or alternative public schools. The report is here.  A future column will discuss this.

Chartering offers more opportunities for Minnesota students, families and educators. Some of Minnesota’s strongest charters were created or led by former district educators, such as Dennis Carlson, formerly the Anoka-Hennepin district superintendent. Commissioner of Education Mary Cathryn Ricker wisely has promoted learning among district and charter public school educators.

COVID-19 produced hardships, frustration and tragedy. But many Minnesotans have concluded that, as Cole Stevens wrote, “The time to act is now!” Fortunately, he and many Minnesotans are persistent, collaborative and courageous.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at