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NYCLU Files School Reform Lawsuit

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) today filed suit in the Supreme Court, Albany County against the State of New York and various State officials including Velma Cobb, Governor George Pataki and Richard P. Mills, Commissioner of the State Education Department. The suit rests principally upon a state constitutional provision that has been interpreted as imposing upon state officials the obligation to provide all children within the State with “the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.” It contends that despite this constitutional promise, there remain a significant number of schools statewide that must be regarded as “failing schools” based upon an inadequacy of resources and services and the low academic achievement of large numbers of students attending these schools. The suit has been filed as a class action on behalf of approximately 75,000 children attending approximately 150 schools in 9 districts around the State, including Hempstead, Roosevelt, Wyandanch, Westbury, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo.

The lawsuit builds on the groundbreaking work done by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. “Our claim is based upon the constitutional principle developed by the New York Court of Appeals and Justice Leland B. DeGrasse in the CFE case,” observed Donna Lieberman, NYCLU’s Interim Executive Director. “This suit complements the CFE case and makes clear that educational inadequacy must be remedied by State officials,” Ms. Lieberman said.

The NYCLU lawsuit asserts that “failing schools” generally possess some combination of the following characteristics: a highly transient teaching staff, inadequately trained teachers, inadequate textbooks and computers, decrepit facilities, overcrowded conditions, inadequate attention to the core-curriculum, a lack of administrative leadership, class-sizes that are too large for the many “high need” children in the classes, school buildings that house too many students to give children and parents a sense of community, inadequate programs for art, music or athletics and a lack of parental involvement in the life of the schools. The suit recognizes that all “failing schools” will not necessarily suffer from all of these characteristics and that the causes of failure will vary from school to school. But the suit asserts that each of the “failing schools” identified in the complaint share a critical combination of these characteristics plus the abysmal failure of significant numbers of students to demonstrate basic educational competence.

In its request for judicial relief, the NYCLU asks state education officials to meet with local education officials and with representative from the affected communities in order to conduct a detailed assessment of the sources of failure in each of the “failing schools” and to develop and implement specific plans for each school to correct the identified failures and for the State to provide resources to remedy the failures. Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director, commented: “We are advancing a school-based, process-based approach toward school reform. We do so not only to remedy conditions in identified “failing schools” but to provide a procedural model for evaluating deficiencies in individual schools and for correcting those deficiencies. As such, this case represents the next generation of school reform litigation that focuses on specific remedial measures for specific failing schools and upon a process for identifying the sources of the failure and for remedying such failure.”

Christopher Dunn, NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney, observed: “This lawsuit also complements an earlier lawsuit filed by the NYCLU, in federal court under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act charging racial discrimination on behalf of children attending high-minority schools around the State.”

Read the complaint

The complaint is also available for download as a Microsoft Word file.

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