Challenge to Teacher-Tenure System in NY Advances

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Dozens of public school students can proceed with their constitutional challenges to New York’s teacher-tenure system, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The consolidated complaints, filed by students and parents, allege that the tenure system allows ineffective teachers who rank at the bottom 5 percent among all public school teachers to remain employed, leading to a marked disadvantage for their students.

The first complaint, filed in July 2014 by Bronx student Mymoena Davids and 10 other children in the state, claimed that tenured teachers were difficult to remove from their posts, even in some cases of abuse or multiple unsatisfactory ratings.

The second complaint, filed in Albany County Supreme Court later that same month by Brooklyn parent John Keoni Wright on behalf of his twin daughters Kaylah and Kyler, claimed many ineffective teachers are denied tenure under state rules.

“An ineffective teacher can leave a student ill-equipped to advance, or even to stay apace of those alike in all respects except the quality of their teacher,” Wright’s complaint argued.

Wright also alleged that a performance review added in 2012 to further screen teachers failed to rate teachers ineffective, even when their students failed state exams.

The lawsuit noted that, while nearly 92 percent of New York state teachers in 2012 were rated as either “effective” or “highly effective,” less than one-third of students in the state met proficiency standards in English and math.

The two complaints, which were later consolidated, took issue with the “last in, first out” seniority-based tenure system in the state, claiming it made it nearly impossible for administrators to fire ineffective teachers, who often are transferred to other schools instead of being dismissed outright.

Tenure generally is granted to public school teachers after their third year of full-time employment. After tenure is awarded, it usually requires just cause for such issues as insubordination or mental disability to remove a teacher.

State and city officials, as well as the teachers named as defendants in the two consolidated complaints, sought to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming the parents and students had no standing.

They also later claimed the lawsuits had become “academic” since the state Legislature had amended relevant statutes.

In March 2015 the Richmond County Supreme Court denied motions by the defendants, which includes the Board of Regents for the University of the State of New York, to dismiss the complaints.

Affirming that decision Wednesday, a panel of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department found that the complaints should be allowed to proceed.

“Contrary to the defendants’ further contentions, plaintiffs’ allegations present a justiciable controversy,” the court ruled.

The court also noted the claims are not “academic” as “it cannot be concluded at this stage of the proceedings that a declaration as to the validity or invalidity of those statutes would have ‘no practicable effect on the parties.’”

Adam Ross, legal counsel for the Union Federation of Teachers — which had intervened as a defendant in the complaints — said in a statement after the ruling that he was disappointed in the ruling but confident New York State courts would eventually fall in line with courts in other jurisdictions.

“Judges around the nation have dismissed claims similar to those filed in the Davids-Wright case,” he said in the statement.

The New York City Parents Union, which was founded in 2011 by Mona Davids, one of the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit, lauded the decision, saying “we look forward to discovery and our day in court.”

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