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Six families to challenge New York's teacher tenure laws

Six New York State families plan to sue over the state's teacher tenure laws.

A new educational advocacy group called the Partnership for Educational Justice announced today that it will support the families as they challenge the state's tenure laws.

The families plan to file a lawsuit in Albany within the next few weeks that would claim that teacher removal laws keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and violate the right to basic education for all students, according to the Partnership for Educational Justice.

"The reality is that this lawsuit is a last resort," parents Carla and John Williams of Rochester said in a written statement announcing the planned lawsuit. "We are acting because leaders in Albany have not."

The six families do not include any local parents, but it's possible a Buffalo family could join the suit. Buffalo parent advocate Sam Radford told The News earlier this month that representatives from the organization met with local parents during the last few weeks.

The lawsuit will challenge "Last In, First Out" mandates and state laws that set out disciplinary hearing procedures for removing tenured teachers.

The Partnership for Educational Justice also announced a campaign to provide financial and organizational support for families and students who seek to challenge what it described as the state's "entrenched educational policies."

The group was founded by Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who now advocates for school reform, according to a news release announcing the lawsuit. Brown also provided seed money to start the organization, along with other unidentified donors, according to the group's release.  

The planned New York lawsuit follows a decision earlier this month by a California Court that found that California's tenure laws disproportionately affected poor and minority students. The state's teacher union plans to appeal the decision. 

The New York families will receive pro bono legal representation, the Partnership for Educational Justice announced.

Here's a description of the key points in the lawsuit provided by Partnership for Educational Justice:

"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."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

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