13 former students sue UMD

Due to a paperwork error, some students couldn’t get teaching licenses last year.

by Benjamin Farniok

Last year, 13 graduates of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s education program found themselves unable to get teaching licenses due to a paperwork error from school administrators.
The former students filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court against the school earlier this month that said UMD did not do enough to notify them of the filing lapse that kept them from getting licensed.
The students had graduated in December from the Integrated Elementary and Special Education program when they learned from a news story that they would not receive a full teaching license, according to the complaint.
UMD failed to submit the required documents for approval from the state’s Board of Teaching after a change to board standards in 2012 rendered graduates of the then-new program unable to get a license, said Erin Doan, the board’s executive director.
“It really comes down to a paperwork issue,” said UMD spokeswoman Lynne Williams.
UMD officially notified the students that there had been a “glitch” in the licensing in January 2015, according to the complaint.
Williams said the school has endeavored to be up-front about the issue and has worked with students to help them through the situation.
In addition to securing damages for the students, the suit aims to discover why the students were not notified of the problem earlier, said Bill Sand, the group’s attorney, who added that the students suffered embarrassment and damage to their professional lives because of the issue.
“The big reason we are bringing this case is to get answers and to hold UMD accountable,” Sand said.
The students are suing the University on seven counts, including negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract.
When the students graduated, the board gave six-month temporary licenses to those who had job offers, Doan said.
“We definitely were eager to step up right away and work with candidates and make sure their employment prospects were not hindered by any misstep on behalf of a reporting process by the institution,” she said.
Earlier this year, a board action granted the graduates full-time licenses, Doan said.
Andrea Schokker, executive vice chancellor for UMD, released a statement last week stating that the students received full licenses.
Some of the students received a non-renewable license that expires after five years, according to the complaint.
Doan said the graduates who received non-renewable licenses are registered as teachers who are licensed to work with mildly to moderately mentally challenged students.
They are required to qualify for moderately to severely afflicted students to renew their license after the first five years, but take part in the normal five-year renewal cycle after they qualify, she said.
The Integrated Elementary and Special Education program has been submitted for proper approval, but the board decision could take months, Doan said. If it is approved, the program would have to be reapproved on a two-year schedule.
Williams said she expects the next run of graduating students to be able to qualify for teaching licenses without issue.