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NYCLU To Appeal Decision On School Reform Lawsuit

New York State Court’s Appellate Division has upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the NYCLU’s lawsuit seeking a school-based remedy for “failing schools” around the state. The NYCLU will appeal the decision.

The court ruled that the lawsuit did not establish a violation of the constitutional guarantee of a “sound, basic education” because the NYCLU identified failing schools, not entire school districts in its lawsuit. According to the court, a constitutional violation must be district wide.

The January 29th decision “will come as a bitter disappointment to the thousands of children in upstate communities who are relegated to schools that suffer from inadequate conditions and abysmal learning environments,” say Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU.

The NYCLU’s claim in this case was that in a variety of schools in upstate communities and on Long Island, the facilities are so decrepit and the conditions so inadequate that children assigned to these schools are being denied the opportunity to receive a “sound basic education” under the State Constitution. Such schools cited were in Albany, Buffalo, Hempstead, Mount Vernon, Roosevelt, Syracuse, Wyandanch, Westbury and Yonkers.

Unfortunately, the Court’s ruling in this case rests upon a narrow and constricted interpretation of the State constitutional commitment which, the Court says, only applies to systemic challenges to educational inadequacy. And the Court concluded that the NYCLU lawsuit, which focuses on individual schools within school districts and does not challenge district-wide conditions, does not amount to a systemic challenge.

The NYCLU believes the Appellate Division is wrong:

  • There is systemic failure in a great many schools around New York State.
  • And there is a systemic failure on the part of state officials to fulfill their constitutional obligations to provide children with the opportunity for a “sound basic education.”
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