Fierce debates and in-fighting within New York City’s parent education councils are hardly new.

But as tensions escalated during the pandemic, the Education Department created its first formal process to investigate complaints of harassment and discrimination among these parent leaders and issue sanctions.

That process, after getting off to a slow start, is now facing its first major test amid a surge of misconduct allegations against parents on these boards.

A total of 36 grievances have been filed this school year against parents elected to the city’s Community Education Councils, according to the Education Department. That’s up from five such complaints last year.

Debates in the councils have simmered for years over proposals to strip selective admissions criteria in an effort to racially integrate schools. Conflicts exploded during the pandemic, both locally and across the country, over school closures and masking requirements. And sharp divides have continued this year over rhetoric about LGBTQ youth and the Israel-Hamas war.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a national political fight that has found its way into education,” said Tracy Jordan, the president of Community Education Council 22 in southern Brooklyn, who recently faced accusations of antisemitism from a local City Council member and some parents over a decision to hold a meeting on a Friday night. (Jordan said she cleared the meeting time in advance with all the members of the council, including Jewish members, and that it was a special meeting that didn’t have a public comment portion, so no one was excluded from speaking.)

Jordan doesn’t know for sure if any complaints have been filed against her, but said even the threat of them can “cause concern.”

The spike in grievances, called D-210 complaints, is also a sign that parent leaders are finally making use of the disciplinary process, which was rolled out in December 2021, at the height of the pandemic, and met with deeply divided reactions. Some parents at the time shared personal accounts of racism, harassment, and doxxing at the hands of fellow parent leaders, and they argued it was long past time for city officials to take a stronger role in enforcing behavior norms.

But other parents, including members of PLACE NYC, or Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, a group that supports selective school admissions, argued that the regulation is overly broad, could have a chilling effect on political speech, and gives the Education Department too much power to regulate independent parent leaders.

The resolution ultimately passed, but the process has taken years to get up and running.

City has yet to share outcomes of investigations

When the Education Department receives a complaint, an “equity compliance officer” is supposed to investigate, and within 60 days must turn over their findings to a council of parent leaders elected by their fellow CEC members. That council must then issue recommendations to schools Chancellor David Banks.

The Education Department only hired the equity compliance officer in February 2023, more than a year after the position was created.

Education Department officials said parent leaders recently elected representatives from their home boroughs to the council responsible for reviewing the investigations, though a spokesperson declined to name its members.

Many parents didn’t know about the grievance process or trust that it would yield any results, said NeQuan McLean, the president of District 16′s CEC in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and head of the Education Council Consortium, a group of parent leaders who pushed for the regulation.

“Now that those elements are in place, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the number of discrimination complaints increased,” he said. “The fact that people are filing complaints demonstrates that the regulation and civil rights protections were needed.”

But how the disciplinary process will play out in practice largely remains to be seen.

Potential disciplinary outcomes range from an order from the chancellor to stop the behavior in question to immediate removal if the behavior is criminal, poses a danger to students, or “is contrary to the best interest of the New York City school district.” For lower level offenses, sanctioned council members get an opportunity to reconcile with their colleagues.

An Education Department spokesperson declined to share whether any of the probes have led to discipline.

Camille Casaretti, a member of the Citywide Council on High Schools, said the process “takes too long,” adding that she knows of complaints made during the CEC elections last spring that are still pending.

Meanwhile, some parents are losing their patience.

At a February meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, multiple parents implored Education Department officials to remove members of the CEC on Manhattan’s District 2 who made comments in a private group text chat that denied the existence of transgender kids and referred in graphic terms to the genitalia of a gay state lawmaker, according to The 74. Maud Maron, one of the CEC 2 members in the private chat, declined to answer questions about whether she is the target of any complaints, but told Chalkbeat that “defending the rights of girls and women is not anti-trans.”

Separately, some students and parents at Stuyvesant High School are pushing for Maron to be removed from the School Leadership Team.

Banks, who makes the final call on discipline for elected parent leaders, called the comments “despicable” and “not in line with our values.”

“One of the things I will tell you in the two years I have been chancellor that has been the greatest disappointment to me is to see on a daily basis an example of parents behaving badly,” Banks said. “I’ve tried to give this some time to allow adults to be adults. But when you realize they refuse to do that … we are going to begin to take action.”

Tensions continue to flare in CECs

The conflict in CEC 2 isn’t the only one to draw significant attention this year.

CEC 14 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been locked in a dispute over whether to resume in-person meetings, following a backlash to CEC President Tajh Sutton’s support for a student walkout calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Sutton and other CEC members say they’ve received violent threats, including a package containing feces mailed to the council’s office, and don’t feel safe meeting in person. Critics have accused CEC members of blocking pro-Israel speakers from participating in online meetings – an allegation the CEC members deny.

Sutton said she’s filed D-210 complaints, and she knows she’s the target of multiple complaints. She was initially supportive of the disciplinary process, but doesn’t believe it’s working as intended. She faulted the Education Department for watering down language in the original proposal that referenced specific forms of discrimination, including against transgender people. She said it also took too long to get the process in motion, which caused some parents to lose trust in the process.

“They’re going to have to contend with the fact that this regulation written by parent leaders under attack at the time is now being weaponized against parent leaders under attack,” she said.

Education Department spokesperson Chyann Tull said “parent input has been considered at every stage of developing this process, which helps us ensure an inclusive and respectful environment for all members of our school communities.”

It’s not just the high-profile conflicts garnering media attention that are spurring D-210 complaints. Parent leaders and Education Department officials said the grievances are coming from a wide range of districts.

“In other councils, yes we have D-210 complaints that have been filed, many of which over the last several months,” said Deputy Chancellor Kenita Lloyd in a February meeting. “That process is ongoing.”

In District 22, CEC president Jordan said she’s still managing the fallout from media coverage of her Friday night meeting flap with local City Council member Inna Vernikov, a vocal supporter of Israel who recently made headlines for bringing a gun to a pro-Palestine student rally.

“It was really disappointing and deflating,” Jordan said of the experience. “When you’re accused of something it’s a blemish and doesn’t go away easily.” The whole process has made her question whether getting involved in her CEC was worth it.

She said she supports the idea of a code of conduct for parent leaders, but worries that the Education Department hasn’t done enough to train CEC members on what the code entails and what accountability would look like.

Still, she hopes that the Education Department can distinguish between frivolous complaints and ones that target clearly out-of-bounds behavior.

“At the end of the day, we should be open-minded,” she said. “But when we start causing harm, that is a problem.”

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at