After a defeat in court, New York City is quietly opening school leadership meetings to the public

The city has ordered principals to allow members of the public to attend their school leadership team meetings, ending a multi-year legal battle in which the city tried to restrict access to them.

“Effective immediately, SLTs must allow members of the general public and the press to be admitted to their meetings,” education officials wrote in an email newsletter to principals this week.

The only exceptions to opening the parent-educator teams, the letter states, should be discussions around “certain confidential topics” such as school safety plans, administration of exams, current or future investigations, and litigation.

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.

The city’s announcement to principals comes after an appellate court ruled last month that since the SLTs are part of the education department’s “governance structure,” their deliberations must be public. It was the second time a court ordered the city to open the meetings; in 2015, the city was granted a stay to keep them closed during the appeals process.

On Thursday afternoon, Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci confirmed the city would not appeal last month’s ruling.

“I’m grateful that the [education department] did finally make the right decision,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an organization that joined the lawsuit to open SLT meetings, along with the public advocate’s office. “We have said all along that the law is crystal clear on this.”

While Haimson praised the decision to drop the legal battle, she expressed frustration that the city did not make a more public announcement, and pointed out inconsistencies on the city’s website, which still indicates that parents must check their SLT’s bylaws for guidance on whether they are allowed to attend.

The education department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about those concerns. But in their letter to principals, officials wrote that principals will receive training on how to comply with the Open Meetings Law, and public notice of the meetings must be given at least a week beforehand. The media must be notified 72 hours in advance, according to the letter, and meetings should be listed on the school’s website.

“The message has to be wide and loud that these meetings are open to the public,” Haimson said. “We don’t want any ambiguity or confusion on this issue.”