Teachers fight back against tenure lawsuit

Stephon Johnson | 9/18/2015, 1:21 p.m.
Teachers in New York have had enough of the attacks on their livelihood.
Education

Teachers in New York have had enough of the attacks on their livelihood.

Late last month, lawyers representing New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State Union of Teachers asked a Staten Island judge to dismiss a lawsuit to abolish tenure brought by the Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who has given speeches before at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

According to the unions, many of the issues the nonprofit wants addressed in the lawsuit have already been dealt with.

During his oral argument at Richmond County Supreme Court, NYSUT General Counsel Richard Casagrande said, “It would be unprecedented to say public employees can have no job protection. This is a political attack that says if we just take away teacher rights, we’ll improve education.”

The lawsuit against teachers unions was filed in 2014, after plaintiffs in California won a similar lawsuit in the state’s lower courts. In the lawsuit, teacher tenure is said to deprive New York children of a basic education guaranteed by the state’s constitution. The city and state teachers unions joined local attorneys in arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the New York Legislature already altered the statute governing the teacher evaluation and discipline process. As a result of the alterations, new hires will have a probationary period of fours years and teachers will need three years of “Effective” or “Highly Effective” ratings to earn tenure. On top of those changes, disciplinary proceedings against teachers were further expedited.

In response, Charles Moerdler, a partner at the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, which represents the UFT, said, “Creating a climate that demonizes teachers does not help children and it does not improve education.” Moerdler also reiterated something he said during court proceedings when connecting attacks on teachers to a nationwide teacher shortage.

“For the past 10 years, teachers have been demonized across the country,” Moerdler said. “You can’t demonize people and expect them to say, ‘Hit me again.’ We’ve got to end this reign of terror.”

Oral arguments were overseen by Justice Philip G. Minardo. Minardo said he’ll reserve his decision for a later date.