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New rule: city can expel too-"aggressive” parents from PTAs

New York City is full of parents unafraid to say exactly what they think of their childrens’ schools, but the Department of Education is finding that all too often, that passion is getting out of control.

The DOE currently mediates parent-on-parent disputes two to three times a week, according to Chief Family Engagement Officer Martine Guerrier. She revealed the statistic at a Tuesday meeting of the citywide school board, which approved a regulation giving the department the right to boot parents from parent associations if they verbally abuse or physically threaten other members.

Guerrier said the regulation is needed because the department has little recourse against bullying that has caused intimidated and frightened parents to quit the parent associations at their schools.

But members of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, which represents parent associations across the city, said the regulation’s language is so vague that it could be used to curb parents’ speech.

“This vague and extremely broad language easily lends itself to abuse and inappropriately patronizes hard-working PA officers by treating them like squabbling kindergartners,” CPAC members wrote in an e-mail to Chancellor Joel Klein. “To the extent there are actual threats to the safety of others, they can be dealt with under existing law.” Reiterating their arguments yesterday, CPAC members asked the panel to delay its vote.

Reminding the assembled parents that he used to be a First Amendment lawyer, Klein said the regulation would only be used in clear cases of intimidation. His example: a parent saying, “I’ll wait for you outside,” during an association meeting.

Guerrier said the new rule is a necessary protection for parents.

“Parent association members felt they had to resign. … We have principals who are afraid to attend parent association meetings,” she said. “They would submit complaints but all we could offer was mediation.”

“There is no intent here to stop parents from being passionate or communicating loudly,” Guerrier said.

The city won’t expel parents from parent associations based on another parent’s report, Guerrier said. Instead, department officials will review each case and make a decision about whether to remove a parent by committee.

A similar proposal that was discussed in 2007 and never became an official rule would have allowed principals to expel parents from parent associations for “negative behavior.”

The rule reads:

PA or PC members whose conduct presents a threat or risk to members of the school, district or borough community may be removed from PA or PC office. This includes frequent verbal abuse and unnecessary aggressive speech during meetings, which serves to intimidate and causes others to have concern for their personal safety. PA or PC members who have been removed from office for their conduct may be prohibited from subsequently serving on any PA or PC executive board, school or district leadership team, school or district Title I Parent Advisory Council and CEC, CCSE, CCHS, or CCELL by the Chancellor, the Chancellor’s designee or the CFEO. Decisions to remove officers and restrict future service will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Chancellor, the Chancellor’s designee or the CFEO.