Open Up

Appeals court unanimously orders New York City to open school leadership meetings to the public

Public Advocate Letitia James (center) and parent advocate Leonie Haimson (right), seen here in 2013, joined a lawsuit to make school leadership team meetings open to the public.

For the second time in two years, a court has ordered the city to open school leadership meetings to the public. And for the second time, it’s not clear if the city will actually open them.

The ruling, which became public Tuesday, upheld a Manhattan Supreme Court judge’s decision that meetings of the joint parent-educator School Leadership Teams should be open to the public.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for parents, students, educators and all of us who believe in transparency and accountability at the Department of Education,” wrote Public Advocate Letitia James, who joined a retired Manhattan teacher’s lawsuit alongside the advocacy group Class Size Matters. “Important decisions about our schools must be made in sunlight with input from parents and teachers.”

Under state law, every school must have a leadership team that includes the principal, parent association president, teachers union representative, and an equal number of elected parents and staff members. The teams are charged with creating annual comprehensive education plans, and must be consulted on certain key decisions, including hiring principals and assistant principals, and moving other schools into their buildings.

At issue is whether the leadership teams (SLTs) are simply offering advice, or play a role in actually governing schools. In a unanimous ruling from a four-judge panel, which reviewed the city’s appeal, the court found that, “It cannot be disputed that SLTs are established pursuant to state law and are a part of DOE’s ‘governance structure.’

“It also cannot be disputed that SLTs have decision-making authority to set educational and academic goals for a school through the [comprehensive education plan],” the opinion continued.

It was not immediately clear if the city plans to appeal the decision. The city’s education department declined to comment, referring all questions to the law department.

“The state legislature never intended to mandate that SLT meetings be open to the general public. We are considering our options,” wrote law department spokesman Nick Paolucci.

In the meantime, the court order requires the city to open school leadership meetings to the public immediately, and must offer public notice in line with open meetings laws, according to Anna Brower, a spokeswoman for the public advocate.

The city has balked at opening the meetings in the past. When a court ruled against the city in April 2015, it got a stay on the ruling and Chancellor Carmen Fariña instructed principals to keep the meetings closed while the case made its way through the appeals process.

This is not the first time the city has faced litigation over SLT meetings. In 2013, a Staten Island teacher sued after he was barred from a meeting at his school — a case the city won.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of a judge’s previous ruling on this lawsuit. It’s April 2015, not last April.

moving forward

New York City officials: Large-scale school desegregation plan likely coming by June

PHOTO: BRIC TV
Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack, third from left, discussing the city's integration efforts.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised a “bigger vision” to address segregation in New York City schools, but officials have thus far kept details under wraps.

But they’ve been dribbling out some details, most notably a timeline for when a large-scale plan could be released. Officials at a town hall discussion in Brooklyn Thursday night reiterated that a plan would likely be released by June.

We’re “going to propose some new thinking that we have, both about some of the systems that we run and about ways that we can work together locally to make change,” said Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack, who is heading the department’s diversity efforts. “We expect it to come out by the end of the school year.”

BRIC TV host Brian Vines, who moderated the panel co-produced with WNYC, pushed for details. “Is there any one thing that you can at least give us a hint at that’s a concrete measure?” he asked.

But Wallack didn’t take the bait. “What I will say is that we are actually still engaged in conversations like this one, trying to get good ideas about how to move forward,” he said, adding that the education department is talking with educators, parents and schools interested in the issue.

New York City officials have been under pressure to address school segregation after a 2014 report called its schools some of the most racially divided in the country. More recently, debates over how best to change zone lines around schools on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn have grown heated.

“We have a lot of hard work to do,” Wallack said. “But the mayor and chancellor are deeply committed to that work and to working with all of you to make that happen.”

Correction (Dec. 2, 2016): This story has been corrected to reflect that the town hall event was not the first time officials had described a timeline for releasing a plan.

data points

Six stats that show how black and Latino students in New York City are subjected to disproportionate policing

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Advocates protest school suspension policy.

Arrests, summonses, and serious crimes are all trending downward in city schools, but a new analysis shows black and Latino students continue to be disproportionately subjected to police interventions and handcuffing, even during incidents that aren’t considered criminal.

Those findings come from a New York Civil Liberties Union review of new NYPD statistics on student interactions with regular precinct officers, in addition to their contact with school safety agents posted in schools. Thanks to a city law passed in 2015, this year is the first time those numbers have been publicly released (in previous years, the NYPD only released data on incidents involving school safety agents).

The new statistics add second-quarter data to first-quarter numbers released in July, revealing the persistence of troubling racial disparities over the first half of 2016. Here are six key data points from the NYCLU analysis:

  • In the first six months of the yearabout 91 percent of school-based arrests, and nearly 93 percent of summonses, were issued to black or Latino students (a population that represents nearly 70 percent of the school population).
  • More than 60 percent of all arrests and summonses during the same period were carried out by precinct officers, not school safety agents. “That means precinct-based officers with no specialized training enter schools and arrest children without regard for the impact on school climate,” according to the NYCLU.
  • There have been 1,210 school-related incidents where children were handcuffed in the first half of 2016. Nearly 93 percent involved students who were black or Latino.
  • Between April and July there were 94 incidents where a student showed “signs of emotional distress” and was handcuffed and taken to a hospital for further evaluation. Ninety-seven percent involved students who were black or Hispanic.
  • Over the same period, the city issued 255 “juvenile reports” — which are taken for students who are under 16 and involved in incidents that, if the students were adults, could count as crimes. Ninety-two percent of the reports were issued to black and Latino students. And though only 20 percent of students issued juvenile reports were handcuffed, 100 percent of those restrained were black or Latino.
  • There were 44 “mitigation” incidents, in which a student committed an offense and was handcuffed, but then released by the NYPD to school officials for discipline. All of those students were black or Latino.

You can find the NYCLU’s annual roundup of suspension data here.