Union Victories
June 07, 2024

NYSUT wins decade-long tenure case

Author: Kara Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
NYSUT wins decade-long tenure case

It took 10 long years, but on June 5 NYSUT finally won its court case defending classroom tenure when the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the suit. The Davids and Wright Cases, informally known as “the tenure case,” began in 2014 when deep-pocketed privateers fronted by political talking head Campbell Brown filed a lawsuit against the state and New York City as the Partnership for Educational Justice. It was an attempt to strip educators of due process rights like tenure that, for more than a century, have shielded good teachers against unwarranted dismissal when they protect students or speak out against injustice.

“This decision has been a decade in the making and proves what we already know: that New York’s tenure protections are legal and enforceable,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person noting that the only "guarantee" inherent in tenure is that educators who earn it aren’t subject to arbitrary firing over issues like discrimination, favoritism or differing political views. “NYSUT will continue to protect the rights of our members from all legal challenges, no matter how powerful or monied those challenges may be. Unions fight for middle class families, uplift communities and strengthen our country. We will continue to carry on these proud traditions into the future.”

NYSUT took aggressive steps to fight back, joining the case as intervenor defendants on behalf of the union and seven individual teachers, including three New York State Teachers of the Year. It stated that Brown and her supporters were trying to "eviscerate laws” designed to attract and retain qualified teachers, protect them from arbitrary dismissal and promote the best education for New York's school children. NYSUT charged that eliminating tenure would harm the state’s education system. “We got involved because we wanted to make sure the state and city didn’t roll over on the issue and that the union’s point of view was represented,” said Bob Reilly, NYSUT general counsel.

In its court documents, NYSUT asserted that teachers and their union have a "real and substantial interest" in the outcome of the anti-tenure case because dismantling tenure would jeopardize their teaching as well as their basic terms and conditions of employment. In needy districts the suit blamed tenure for low student achievement; however, the tenure process is identical statewide in both low-income districts with larger populations of struggling students and wealthy districts with high graduation and college acceptance rates.

“The real reason for student achievement disparities in schools throughout New York state isn’t due process protections like tenure, but poverty,” said Person noting that the union strives to level the educational playing field for students through its One-in-Five anti-poverty coalition campaign which advocates for a slate of legislative measures to address childhood poverty. Nearly one in five New York children live in poverty, a rate that exceeds the national average and overall poverty rates in both the state and country. In New York, a state with a GDP of over $2 trillion and home to 135 billionaires and 340,000 millionaires, this is unacceptable, continued Person.

“More than 700,000 children enter our classrooms every day with the burdens of homelessness, unaddressed health concerns, lack of basic hygiene products, and the stigma and stress surrounding a life of poverty,” said Person. “If children are worried about survival, they will be unable to learn.”