January 2017 Issue
February 01, 2017

Buffalo teachers file legal appeal to oust Paladino from board

Author: By NYSUT United staff
Source: NYSUT United

It was the last straw.

Outraged over Carl Paladino's latest racist rants, Rachel Lyons emailed the Buffalo Board of Education, called the State Education Department and added her name to a legal appeal demanding Paladino be removed from the city's school board.

"As a parent, and as a teacher, this is not OK," she said. "He does not serve the best interests of my daughters or my students, especially in a school district that is predominantly minority."

Paladino's latest statements, she said, are "not a new problem." He has said similar things in the past and, when asked about them, "he just doesn't understand the gravity of what he said. He is not an appropriate person to serve on the school board."

Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, couldn't agree more. Only Paladino's removal from the board "will end the negative, educationally disruptive and emotionally harmful conditions his actions have caused in our schools," Rumore said.

Lyons, a high school art teacher for 19 years, and four other Buffalo teachers are the plaintiffs in a legal appeal to State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, stating Paladino violated his duty to serve as a role model for the school community when he made "racially inflammatory statements" about President Obama, the first lady and African-Americans.

Their 18-page legal appeal, filed with the full support of the BTF and prepared by NYSUT legal, the local union's statewide affiliate, lists numerous reasons why Elia should remove Paladino. According to state law, the commissioner can remove a board member for willful violation of the law or neglect of duty.

The teachers charge that Paladino's "actions and statements negatively affect the ability of teachers to do their job in teaching students tolerance, kindness and self-respect … and have interfered with the delivery of education services to the students of the Buffalo City School District."

Joseph Montante, also one of the petitioners, has been teaching in Buffalo schools for 30 years. "Saying such hurtful things does have an effect on how our students see the world and see themselves. One of my students remarked, 'If Paladino thinks Barack Obama should die of Mad Cow Disease and Michelle [Obama] should go live in Africa ... how can he possibly care anything about me?'"

Paladino "feels he can say whatever he pleases and hurt others because, in his view, everyone is inferior to him," Montante said. "He has sent out racist emails in the past and his actions indicate a pattern of disdain toward minorities. This situation is beyond repair and only his removal will allow our school district to move forward."

The appeal cites the state's Dignity for All Students Act, which declares that a student's ability to learn is compromised by incidents of discrimination and harassment and requires boards of education to "create environments that are free from harassment, bullying and discrimination." The appeal also cites Paladino's disclosure of confidential board discussions.

For Sophia Howard-Johnson, adding her name to the legal appeal to oust Paladino from the school board says everything about how she herself was raised.

"My mother was 15 when she had me. By the time she was 19 she had three children," Howard-Johnson said. "We always lived in the Kennedy Square projects in Syracuse."
She was encouraged by her mother and grandmother to "make a better life for myself," and gained strength and confidence through her public school educators and guidance counselors. She became the first in her family's generation to graduate from college.

Howard-Johnson has spent all but one of her 25 years as a teacher in Buffalo schools. She guides pre-K students, "the first learners," she calls them, through their initiation into classroom education. She is a grandparent of Buffalo students. Her son is a graduate of Buffalo public schools. She knows full well how important education is for the future of young people.

"We are leaders and educators who give insight and guidance to our students. Our main purpose is to make sure they have a future," Howard-Johnson said.

Paladino's hateful statements do just the opposite. "His racist remarks prove he does not support our children, or build up our schools. He suggests our children have no hope," she said. "We need people who will motivate children and put them on the right path."

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said school board members have a special obligation to be role models for students.

"Our public schools must be sanctuaries where students and teachers are free from harassment, bullying and discrimination in all forms," Magee said. "Through his racist ranting, Carl Paladino has not only undermined the state's anti-bullying law and district policies against harassment and discrimination, he has also violated his oath to comport himself responsibly as a board member. He is a disgrace to all the dedicated members serving on school boards throughout the state and he must be removed."

Teachers are among the growing chorus of city and state leaders, Buffalo school board members and residents demanding Paladino's ouster. Paladino, who has a history of sending sexist and racist emails, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. He was elected to a second term on the school board in 2016.