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Mona Davids (left) is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging New York's job-protection laws for teachers.

Mona Davids (left) is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging New York’s job-protection laws for teachers.

Jessica Glazer

Case challenging teacher tenure in New York will go on, despite union’s objections

New York City’s teachers union was dealt a setback Wednesday as a lawsuit challenging the state’s tenure laws got a green light to proceed.

An appellate court decided to let the Davids-Wright case move forward, upholding a lower court’s decision. The teachers union had sought to dismiss the case, but the ruling means that the central question, whether teachers in New York should be guaranteed the job protections they currently enjoy, will continue to be debated in court.

The suit is actually the merger of two separate pieces of litigation filed in 2014, just after a high-profile lawsuit challenged teacher tenure in California. First, a parent advocate, Mona Davids, filed suit alleging that New York’s tenure rules cause poor students of color to have low-performing teachers. Weeks later, TV personality Campbell Brown launched a nonprofit, the Partnership for Educational Justice, by lodging a suit making similar — but even broader — claims. A judge combined the cases several months later.

The city teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, has repeatedly sought to have the case dismissed.

“We are disappointed in this procedural decision by an intermediate court,” United Federation of Teachers general counsel Adam Ross said in a statement Wednesday. “Judges around the nation have dismissed claims similar to those filed in the Davids-Wright case, and we are confident as the case goes forward that New York courts will ultimately recognize the importance to students and schools of reasonable due process for teachers.”

It’s true that across the country, some challenges to teachers’ work protections have been dismissed, including, notably, in California. But others have ultimately been successful. Just this month, Colorado’s highest court essentially ruled that teachers in that state do not have a fundamental right to tenure.

Brown has moved on to lead journalism initiatives at Facebook, but the Partnership for Educational Justice continues to pursue litigation that would undermine teacher job protections.

“New York’s constitution guarantees all children in the state a sound basic education, and the current teacher employment statutes are simply failing our children by keeping ineffective teachers in our public schools,” Jay Lefkowitz, a Kirkland & Ellis senior partner who is representing the plaintiffs in the Wrights-David case, said in a statement Wednesday. “This decision will finally allow us to get the evidence from the State that will vindicate the rights of parents and children across the state.”