New York Families Announce Historic Lawsuit Challenging Teacher Tenure Laws
Suit Will Charge That Complicated Teacher Removal Process Violates State Constitutional Guarantee of a Sound Basic Education
New Organization – Partnership for Educational Justice – Formed to Provide Structure and Support for Families
NEW YORK – Six families from across New York State today announced the planned filing of a lawsuit that will challenge teacher tenure laws that keep ineffective and even dangerous teachers in the classroom.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in Albany in the next few weeks, charges that the State’s complicated teacher tenure and removal process – including “Last In, First Out” mandates and archaic, costly teacher tenure and disciplinary statutes – violates the State Constitution’s guarantee of a sound basic education to all students.
“We want the best for our kids – and that starts with a great education and great teachers in the classroom,” said Carla and John Williams from Rochester, NY, one of the six families involved in the lawsuit. “But our daughter simply isn’t getting the instruction and learning she needs, and our school leaders and local elected officials aren’t taking steps to support effective teachers. The reality is that this lawsuit is a last resort. We are acting because leaders in Albany have not.”
In conjunction with the parents’ lawsuit, the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) formally launched its efforts to provide the families and students with organizational and financial support as they take on the entrenched educational policies.
PEJ has been meeting with families and education advocates around these issues since the fall of 2013. The lawsuit comes just weeks after a California Court ruled that similar teacher tenure and retention laws violated the state’s Constitution and the right to equal opportunity to an education.
“As a journalist, I spent my professional life helping people tell their stories – and now as a parent, I’m advocating for these families to have their voices heard. They want what all families want, a sound basic education for their kids,” said Campbell Brown, Founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice. “Year after year our politicians have failed to act on common sense reforms. These families feel they no choice but to ask the courts to step in. All of New York’s children deserve access to a great education and these families will not wait another day.”
The families will receive pro bono representation and counsel of various attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, including Jay Lefkowitz who has represented parents and organizations seeking meaningful reform in education for the last two decades and has litigated charter operator cases in several states.
Brown provided the seed funding for PEJ with a bipartisan group of donors also supporting the effort to provide every child access to a quality teacher and education. Education advocate Reshma Singh will serve as the new organization’s Executive Director.
“Effective teachers are essential to providing high quality, inspiring education. And yet, failed education laws here in New York promote seniority over performance and fail to remove ineffective and dangerous teachers from the classroom. It’s wrong,” Singh said. “Our bipartisan group will give these families – and families across the state – the support they need to bring common sense back into the classroom and make sure New York students have access to quality teachers.”
KEY POINTS IN LAWSUIT AGAINST COMPLICATED NYS TEACHER TENURE RULES
Families are suing the State of New York, claiming that the institutionalized retention of ineffective teachers deprives each child of their right to a sound basic education as guaranteed under the New York State Constitution. There are three basic claims:
1. Similar to the recent ground-breaking Vergara ruling in California, the lawsuit will specifically challenge the “Last In, First Out” mandate in New York, stating that the policy of forcing school districts to base layoffs on seniority – not a teacher’s performance in the classroom – violates the state constitution by denying students access to effective teachers.
2. Also similar to Vergara, the lawsuit will claim that New York’s Tenure Statute forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent lifetime employment after three years – an arbitrary time period that does not provide administrators enough time to determine a teachers’ effectiveness. Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers –creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers.
3. Also similar to Vergara, the suit claims that the complicated disciplinary statutes make it nearly impossible to fire or discipline ineffective teachers – creating a burdensome, costly, and lengthy process that rarely removes ineffective teachers.
ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP FOR EDUCATIONAL JUSTICE
Partnership for Educational Justice helps students, families and communities advocate for the great public schools they deserve though coalition building and legal action. All children, no matter their background or circumstance, deserve access to a sound education. The inequalities that exist in our educational system are the civil rights issue of our time. Motivated by a pervasive lack of meaningful progress in ensuring a supportive learning environment for all students, Partnership for Educational Justice challenges antiquated education laws that prevent public schools from providing all students with an excellent education. Targeted litigation will be supported by an aggressive communications campaign at the local, state and national level. Through its work, Partnership for Educational Justice will mobilize families, community stakeholders and organizations to form effective coalitions that increase pressure on legislators and other decision makers to reform our educational system.
Founded by Campbell Brown, an award-winning journalist and writer, Partnership for Educational Justice is in the process of becoming a 501c3 organization.