A nonprofit group led by a former CNN anchor is planning a challenge to New York’s teacher tenure law, questioning whether it complies with the state constitution.
The Partnership for Educational Justice, a newly launched group founded by anchor-turned-advocate Campbell Brown, claims the state’s tenure system violates the constitutional right to a “sound, basic education.” Specifically, the group intends to target the “last in, first out” policy, which ties teacher layoffs to seniority rather than performance.
The group, bolstered by a major ruling in California tossing the state’s teacher tenure policies, says six families — including one from Rochester — will file a lawsuit in Albany in early July.
“Year after year our politicians have failed to act on common sense reforms,” Brown said in a statement. “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.”
New York laws requires new teachers to complete a probationary period, which in most cases in three years. After that probationary period is up, a school board has to decide whether to grant the teacher tenure. Once tenure is granted, a teacher can’t be fired without a disciplinary hearing — known as a 3020a hearing — or a settlement.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu earlier this month threw out the state’s job-protection laws for teachers, though the ruling has been stayed pending an appeal. But the decision sparked conversation about tenure laws throughout the country and helped renew talks about potential legal challenges in other states.
Carl Korn, a spokesman for the New York State United Teachers union, said the right to a disciplinary hearing is similar to the rights granted police officers or firefighters.
“Tenure laws protect students and good teaching by ensuring that educators aren’t fired for speaking out on behalf of their students or because they engage their students in controversial topics,” Korn said. “Does New York really want its teachers to have to remain silent on controversial issues because their employment would depend on the whim of an administrator or school board?”
Among the expected plaintiffs in the upcoming legal challenge will be Carla and John Williams of Rochester, according to the Partnership for Educational Justice. Carla is the mother of four children between the age of 10 and 18, according to the group.
“The reality is that this lawsuit is a last resort,” the Williams said in a joint statement provided by the group. “We are acting because leaders in Albany have not.”