Sept - Nov Issue
September 24, 2014

Due process defenders: Law safeguards quality teachers

Source: NYSUT United
tenure defenders
Caption: Meet the due process defenders.

Affidavits from seven NYSUT members (PDF) - all highly accomplished educators - are an integral part of NYSUT's motion to intervene in Wright v. New York, a lawsuit brought by Campbell Brown's Partnership for Educational Justice to challenge the state's tenure law. They are:


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Seth Cohen, an earth science teacher in Troy, a parent and president of the Troy Teachers Association. Troy is an impoverished 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 them to complete assignments. From Cohen's affidavit: "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."

Daniel Delehanty, an 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. From Delehanty's 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, a National Board Certified special education teacher at Lewiston-Porter High School, a parent, and 2014 New York State Teacher of the Year. Her district is reeling from the loss of 79 staff members and being forced to use substantial reserve funding to partially offset the loss of state aid. From Dreher's affidavit: "Over the years, I have been a staunch advocate for my students with special needs, both inside and outside the classroom ... 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. From Ferguson's affidavit: "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, a parent and coach in the Niagara Falls School District, an impoverished community in which about 70 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. His district is facing many challenges in providing a sound, basic education, including the inability to fill teaching positions lost due to attrition and retirement and the virtual elimination of the modified sports program. From Martinez's affidavit: "Without (tenure law) 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."

Richard Ognibene Jr., chemistry teacher at Fairport Senior High School and 2008 New York State Teacher of the Year. Ognibene is an adviser 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. From Ognibene's affidavit: "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 Riley Tuck, social studies teacher in White Plains, a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas, and a former judge advocate general in the U.S. Navy. Her district is facing the growing needs of students, including hunger and language barriers. From Tuck's affidavit: "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."

The motion to intervene and affidavits are available for download.