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Mayor Bloomberg lobbied for a law he won't uphold at home

One surprising item on Mayor Bloomberg’s list of fulfilled campaign promises was his commitment to lobby the state to pass an anti-bullying law that he has declined to enforce at the city level.

The City Council passed the Dignity for All Students Act in 2004, saying that the city needed to do more to protect students, especially gay students and members of certain religious groups, from harassment. Bloomberg immediately vetoed the act, and then after the council overturned his veto he refused to implement the law.

At the same time, the city says, Bloomberg was lobbying the State Senate and Assembly to pass essentially the same law. “The City continues to support this legislation and submitted a memo in support of both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill,” the campaign scorecard says. It gave the lobbying plans an asterisked “done,” meaning that the promise is close to accomplished. (DASA came close to passing this year, but so far it hasn’t.)

The discrepancy is rooted in the city Department of Education’s nebulous legal position as neither a city nor a state agency, a position that got attention but no resolution in the school governance debate this year. The mayor has as a rule declined to follow school rules that the City Council has passed, such as a ban on the cell phone ban.

“We did not oppose the substance of the City Council law,” said schools department spokesman Will Havemann about DASA. “Rather, we held that the State legislature was the appropriate body to pass the legislation, and so we supported the State’s bill. The City Council is preempted by State law on disciplinary and pedagogical matters.”

The city did make efforts to address bullying in the schools, last year launching a new anti-bullying policy called Respect for All. But the new policy did not make anti-bias training mandatory for all teachers, as DASA did, angering advocates.

Those advocates say Bloomberg’s refusal to follow DASA sends a message that he doesn’t support more stringent measures to curb bullying and harassment. “It speaks volumes when the mayor is telling the state legislature what they should do but has refused to implement the Dignity for All Students Act in New York City,” said Udi Ofer, the policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been leading the push to get DASA implemented. “There’s a huge, huge hole between what both state DASA and city DASA say and what the city has done.”

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news