comings and goings

Department of Education gets new top lawyer amid segregation and safety challenges

PHOTO: Ron Coleman
Howard Friedman
PHOTO: Courtesy Department of Education
Howard Friedman

When New York City’s education department responds to a lawsuit challenging its handling of school violence, there will be a new name on the legal papers.

Howard Friedman, who has worked for the city’s law department for nearly two decades, will become the Department of Education’s general counsel next month. Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced the appointment in a statement that heralded Friedman’s “dedication, passion, and innovative thinking.”

The top legal slot had been open since Courtenaye Jackson-Chase left for the Children’s Aid Society in February after a decade at the department. With her predecessor, Jackson-Chase tackled efforts to close the “rubber room” for teachers who were removed from the classroom after being accused of misconduct and to streamline disciplinary hearings for department employees. As those issues dropped from the department’s public priorities under the de Blasio administration, Jackson-Chase reviewed the department’s Respect for All anti-bullying policy.

Friedman arrives as the department faces a full slate of legal issues. They include how to allow schools to bend city rules to promote racial integration and to how to respond to the school safety lawsuit, which critics of the de Blasio administration filed this spring.

Here’s the city’s complete press release about Friedman’s appointment:


NEW YORK – Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the appointment of Howard Friedman as General Counsel. In his new role, Friedman will serve as the chief legal advisor for the DOE, where he will focus on the development and implementation of new initiatives and the revision of existing education policy. Friedman will also provide counsel to the Chancellor on the legal aspects of policy and administrative matters.

Prior to joining the DOE, Friedman served as the Chief of the Contracts and Real Estate Division of the New York City Law Department, where he counseled City agencies and the Mayor’s Office on transactional matters and special projects. Friedman joined the Contracts and Real Estate Division in 1998, became Deputy Chief of the Division in 2004, and was promoted to Chief last year.

“Howard has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to serving our city and we are very excited to have someone with his talent and experience join our team,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “I know that Howard will continue to bring an extraordinary level of dedication, passion and innovative thinking to his new role serving our city’s 1.1 million students, families and school staff.”

“It is an honor to join the Department of Education and to be a part of the incredible work it’s doing on behalf of our city’s families,” said Howard Friedman. “I’ve had the privilege of serving the City of New York and its residents for the past 20 years, and I look forward to helping this department build on the progress it has made delivering a high-quality education to every student.”

“The qualities that make Howard eminently qualified to lead the legal division of the City’s largest operation are the qualities we will miss most at the Law Department – his incomparable knowledge of the law, his ability to solve practical problems, and his steadiness under pressure,” said Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter.

“From his time as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, to his nearly two decades with the New York City Law Department, Howard has proven himself a tough and dedicated public servant,” said Ursulina Ramirez, Chief Operating Officer for the Department of Education. “We are very fortunate to have him join the department, where I know he will become a champion for our city’s public school students and families.”

Prior to joining the New York City Law Department, Friedman worked, among other things, as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, where he first worked in the Criminal Appeals Bureau, and then in the Civil Division serving the Harlem neighborhood. He is a 1985 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. Friedman will join the DOE on July 5.

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