Legal Battle

Legal challenge to tenure clears hurdle, union vows to fight back

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

The battle against teacher tenure in New York City took one step forward on Thursday after a Staten Island judge allowed opponents’ challenge to the city’s workplace protections for educators to proceed.

The judge denied motions filed by the city, state and the teachers unions to dismiss a lawsuit challenging labor protections afforded to public school teachers, including tenure. If legal challenges to the city’s tenure policies are eventually successful, it could have major implications for tenure policies around the country.

The decision was hailed by the plaintiffs and by television journalist-turned education activist Campbell Brown, who has supported the legal challenge.

“This ruling is a major victory for New Yorkers, especially for parents and students,” Brown said in a statement.

The suit, Davids v. New York, asserts that New York’s teacher tenure review process is too short and should be lengthened from three years to five years; that the system of organizing teacher layoffs but the principle of “last in, first out” should be abandoned; and that the dismissal process for weak teachers should be streamlined. The workplace protections given to teachers, the plaintiffs contend, shield incompetent teachers from being fired and degrade the quality of education to many of the state’s students.

But teachers unions, along with officials from the city and state departments of education, challenged whether the group of parents bringing the suit had standing to file the legal action, and whether the courts, rather than the state legislature, should decide which workplace protections should be granted to teachers.

Judge Philip Minardo said the plaintiffs’ arguments around teacher tenure were strong enough to merit moving toward trial, and that the courts were the proper venue for review of state education policy.

The state teachers union called Thursday’s decision disappointing, but not unexpected, and said it plans to appeal Minardo’s decision.

“NYSUT anticipates taking this meritless attack on fairness and due process to the appellate division immediately,” the union said in a statement.

If an appeal is filed, it would further delay a trial.

In his January budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked for concessions that mirrored some of the changes plaintiffs in the lawsuit have been demanding. In exchange for additional funding for public schools, Cuomo asked the legislature to lengthen the time a teacher works before earning tenure from three to five years and expedite the teacher discipline process.

But Cuomo’s policy push offered little solace to named plaintiff and vice president of the New York City Parents Union Sam Pirozzolo.

“The governor may be committed to reform but he has to negotiate with the legislators and the unions and the lobbyist. He has obstacles,” Pirozzolo said.

Lawmakers in Albany pushed back against Cuomo’s proposals this week. The Assembly proposed a budget with $830 million in additional school funding, but without Cuomo’s concessions.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.