The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund today issued the following joint statement sharply criticizing Chancellor Levy’s removal of Community District 1 School Board member Amy Velez:
The Chancellor’s removal of Amy Velez, a duly elected member of the District 1 School Board, without an independent investigation or due process hearing is an attack on the community she represents and a flagrant assault on their constitutional rights. The voters of District 1 have a fundamental right to be represented on the Community School Board by their own duly elected representatives, and those representatives, like Ms. Velez, are entitled to fair procedures before they can be removed from office in connection with any charge of wrongdoing.
There is a strong constitutional presumption against the removal of elected officials. Nonetheless, the Chancellor has gone against the will of the people and removed Ms. Velez on the basis of a vague, unsubstantiated and patently absurd accusation -- that she practiced "voodoo" on a district staff member -- followed by an inept, unfair and tainted investigation by the Chancellor’s own staff.
The Chancellor's decision is all the more troubling because it arises in the midst of a dispute over the commitment by the District 1 Community School Board to ensure racial balance and academic diversity in each of the District's schools. A narrow 5-4 majority of the local Board supports this policy and has met resistance and obstruction by the dissenting members of the local Board and by the Chancellor’s office. Rather than resolve the policy disagreement through the fair process of open discussion and democratic governance, the Chancellor's office has apparently decided to reverse the policy by removing one of its staunch proponents.
At minimum, the lack of fairness and due process in removal of Ms. Velez lends the appearance that the Chancellor has acted to further a political agenda.
District 1 has an overwhelmingly Latino population. One has to wonder whether the Chancellor would have undertaken these heavy handed and thinly veiled efforts to overturn the lawful decisions of the duly elected school board in a district with a different racial and ethnic composition.
The NYCLU and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund call upon the Chancellor to reconsider his decision and restore Ms. Velez to her position.