October 06, 2014

Teachers intervene in lawsuit challenging tenure

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. Oct. 6, 2014 - New York State United Teachers announced today that its motion to intervene in a suit challenging the state's tenure law was granted by state Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo.

The motion - filed on behalf of seven individual teachers and the statewide union - now provides teachers with the opportunity to aggressively defend the state's tenure law, which for more than a century has allowed New York's educators to effectively advocate for students and protected good teachers from arbitrary firing. Equally important, it gives school teachers a real voice in answering this specious attack on public education.

"We will mount a vigorous defense against any attack on this fundamental and vital protection," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "Tenure is an important safeguard to ensuring children receive a quality education by enabling teachers to speak out in the best interest of their students. Tenure is also a critical safeguard to ensuring all students have an effective teacher, protecting academic freedom and providing educators an environment in which they do not have to be in constant fear of unfair firing."

The state's tenure law initially faced two separate legal challenges - Davids v. New York and Wright v. New York. Those cases have since been consolidated before Justice Minardo in Richmond County. The office of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is representing New York state.

The teachers' motion states the plaintiffs are attempting "to eviscerate laws that have been carefully designed and continually and rationally refined by the Legislature, over the course of more than a century, to attract and retain qualified, dedicated public school teachers, and to protect them from arbitrary dismissal, in the interest of promoting the best possible education for New York's schoolchildren. The evisceration of these laws would not only damage the professional and legal interest of school teachers, but would impair the right of New York's schoolchildren to a sound basic education."

"The misguided focus by the anti-union forces and their wealthy corporate backers on this essential due-process right - a right that is the very foundation of America's justice system - is little more than a distraction from what helps children most: recruiting and retaining quality teachers and providing resources that ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed," Magee said.

The seven teachers joining the suit as defendants, along with NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, include:

  • Seth Cohen, an Earth Science teacher in Troy, a high-needs district forced by budget cuts to eliminate about 80 teaching positions over the last four years. Many Troy students do not have Internet access or a computer at home, making it difficult for students to complete assignments. "None of the problems my school district faces will be rectified by taking away or diminishing the professional safeguards that I and my colleagues were promised when we became public school teachers, and which we earned through years of dedicated service," said Cohen, who is also a parent and is president of the Troy Teachers' Association.
  • Daniel Delehanty, a highly accomplished, award-winning Advanced Placement social studies teacher in the Rochester City School District. Delehanty achieved national board certification in 2011, a symbol of teaching excellence and mastery of his craft. He notes in his affidavit, "As a teacher of U.S. History, I cover many controversial topics in my classroom. For example, one debate-style lesson dealt with gun control. The student-led debate of the pros and cons of gun control resulted in a parent complaint to the superintendent requesting my termination. Without the tenure law safeguards, my career could have been jeopardized by a single parental complaint."
  • Ashli Skura Dreher, an award-winning special education teacher at Lewiston-Porter High School, a parent and the 2014 New York State Teacher of the Year. Dreher notes in her affidavit that tenure's safeguards "further collaboration between teachers in the school community. Without such objective safeguards, in the event of economic layoffs, more senior and highly compensated teachers could be targeted, as could teachers who have spoken out for students or about problems in the school district." She adds, "My students are the beneficiaries of my many years of hard work and professional development. I could not have attained this mastery without the job security afforded by the tenure and seniority laws."
  • Kathleen Ferguson, an elementary teacher in Schenectady, where 80 percent of the district's nearly 10,000 students are considered economically disadvantaged. She is the 2010 Schenectady City Teacher of the Year and the 2012 New York State Teacher of the Year. Ferguson currently teaches an inclusion class where nearly half her students have special needs. Ferguson's affidavit states, "The safeguards afforded to me under New York's tenure laws are important to me. These safeguards allow me to practice my profession in the best interests of the children I teach, with reasonable assurance that I will not be arbitrarily fired or punished."
  • Israel Martinez, a Spanish and French teacher and parent, as well as a cross country, track and wrestling coach, in the Niagara Falls City School District, an impoverished community in which about 70 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. His affidavit notes he has daughters in third and fifth grade. "My daughters benefit … as these laws ensure that teachers are afforded the necessary safeguards that allow them to teach without fear of unjust reprisal."
  • Richard Ognibene Jr., a chemistry teacher at Fairport Senior High School and 2008 New York State Teacher of the Year. Ognibene is an advisor to the Gay Straight Alliance, which meets regularly to discuss social issues, including how to make the school more welcoming for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. His affidavit notes, "I became a teacher because I cannot imagine spending my life doing anything else. My parents were teachers and I consider it a noble profession. I am dedicated to the children I teach and to my profession. (Tenure) is particularly crucial to me as a public school teacher. Under recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, when I speak on behalf of my students in my capacity as a public school teacher, I may have no protection under the First Amendment."
  • Lonnette R. Tuck, a social studies teacher in White Plains since 1988, a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas, and a former Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the United States Navy. Her affidavit notes the seniority safeguards provided by tenure are important. "I am an outspoken advocate for my profession and my students. I have attended numerous Board of Education meetings and attended rallies. Additionally, I have faced criticism from parents who were disgruntled over the grades I gave to their children, notwithstanding the fact that the grades were appropriate."

For more information:

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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