A Big Victory for Transparency in NYC Schools

Trust has to be earned.

Trust has to be earned.

I’ve been so busy teaching and organizing that I didn’t have a chance to share this sweet, sweet victory from last week. Not my victory, but our victory; teachers, parents, students and the public as a whole.

If you’re familiar with my story, then you know I raised concerns at my school’s School Leadership Team back in 2011. It turns out that Principal Linda Hill was sitting at those meetings, getting paid, while she was paid for another program she wasn’t working simultaneously.

In addition to that she violated chancellor’s regulations and who knows what else. In any case, she exiled me from the school, I was elected UFT Chapter Leader, became a mandatory member of the SLT and was still  forbidden from attending. Being the creative and cunning guy I am, I made an attempt to attend not as a chapter leader, but as a member of the public since I am a parent in the community. I was prevented from entering.

See an email from the Director of Labor Relations, David Brodsky, Esq. He’s one of the scummiest lawyers the DOE has. He’s bad for parents and bad for teachers. Joel Klein hired him in 2006 and Chancellor Farina kept him around to this day.

—————-

From: Brodsky David <DBrodsky@schools.nyc.gov>
Date: Mon, May 6, 2013 at 12:43 PM
Subject: Re: Attending Tomorrow’s IS 49 SLT – NY Open Meeting Law
To: fportelos@gmail.com
Cc: ARoss@uft.org, epietromonaco@uft.org, “Rodi Katherine G.” <KRodi@schools.nyc.gov>, Claudio Erminia <eclaudi@schools.nyc.gov>, Cec31 D31 <CEC31@schools.nyc.gov>, cecsam@earthlink.net, Greenfield Robin <RGreenf@schools.nyc.gov>, “Singer Robin F.” <RSinger4@schools.nyc.gov>, “Hill Linda (31r049)” <LHill2@schools.nyc.gov>, Vazquez Marisol <MVazquez16@schools.nyc.gov>, Robert.Freeman@dos.ny.gov, bg@glasskrakower.com, vtrombetta@berta49.org, gcjmom143@aol.com, Jackson-Chase Courtenaye <CJackson-Chase@schools.nyc.gov>

Mr. Portelos,

In response to your inquiry below, please be advised that you may not attend that IS 49 School Leadership Meeting tomorrow as a member of the public.  School Leadership Teams (“SLTs”) are not public bodies and their meetings are not open to the general public.  SLTs are advisory bodies that consult and provide recommendations on various educational matters.  They do not have the power to transact public business and are not “public bodies” within the meaning of the Open Meetings Law.  Moreover, as you have already been notified, you may not attend the IS 49 SLT meeting in your capacity as a teacher because you are currently reassigned from the school and are thus not permitted to participate in school programs, including the SLT.

———————–

While I made this attempt, the New York State United Teachers took the case of me being prevented as chapter leader to the Supreme Court. There it failed, was dismissed and we went towards appealing it.

[In comes the awesome Michael P Thomas entering the arena stage left]

I have never met Michael Thomas, but while I was being hammered by the DOE’s lawyers, in an effort to protect the principal’s malfeasance, I was getting emails of support. One was from a guy named Michael Thomas in 2012. In September 2012, he wrote:

“Finally, remember the names of the lions at the main library: Patience and Fortitude.  There is a terrible urge to lash out wildly in protest of injustice.  Resist the urge.  The battle must be won in the courts, but cases must be legally sound.”

Little did he and I know that nearly three years we would be involved in an epic win with the courts providing that much needed justice. After I was barred from entering the SLT as a parent, I shared the news with Michael Thomas. He then asked for the SLT Chairperson’s information and sent a request to attend in 2014. The response was by the IS 49 SLT Chairperson was:

————–

Michael
In an effort to assure all procedures were followed, I reviewed the SLT By Laws. During my read of said laws, I realized you would not be permitted to attend, even with prior notice, as you not a member of the school community. Our By Laws are quite specific as to whom is considered school community members and states that only such members may attend.

———

Fast forward he was denied access upon arriving at the school. He filed a suit. As both our cases progressed we made connection with Leonie Haimson of Classsizematters.com who connected with attorney Laura Barbieri and NYC Public Advocate Letisha James. I was convinced to drop my case, which had several angles, and allow Michael’s case to be the one to put all our chips on. I thanked the NYSUT attorneys and crossed my fingers that we made the right decision.

It worked and like I said before, we are all victorious. The judge ruled a slam dunk decision and so far no sign of an appeal from David Brodsky and the DOE.

I therefore made a request to attend the next IS 49 SLT meeting and today received the following information.

———-

Good evening,
I would like to attend the next IS 49 SLT meeting now that a judge has ruled that they are open to the public. Please let me knew the time and date. Thank you.

Francesco A. Portelos
Educator
www.mrportelos.com
www.EducatorFightsBack.org
UFT Solidarity Caucus
www.solidaritycaucus.org
​Don’t Tread on Educators
www.DTOE.org

“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” –

 Greek Philosopher Diogenes

RESPONSE:

June 2, 4:00, Gerard Carter Auditorium at I.S. 49

Let’s see what happens. Three years ago I set out to make my small neighborhood school a better place and was thrown more obstacles than you could possibly imagine. I have not lost focus despite the vicious attacks and like Michael P Thomas originally advised, I exercised “Patience and Fortitude.

In addition to thanking Letisha James, Michael Thomas, Leonie Haimson, NYSUT attorney Wendy Star and attorney Laur Barbieri, a big shout out is needed for ATR James Calantjis who created sltsupport.blogspot.com. Had I not visited his site three years ago, I may not have learned Principal Linda Hill and SLT Chairperson Susanne Abramowitz had violated Chancellor’s Regulations and State Law.

DECISION:

http://legalclips.nsba.org/2015/05/07/new-york-state-court-rules-school-leadership-team-meetings-must-be-open-to-the-public

 

New York state court rules “school leadership team” meetings must be open to the public

Thomas v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., 100538/2014 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 23, 2015)

Abstract:  The Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County has ruled that “School Leadership Team” (SLT) meetings are meetings of “public bodies” and, therefore, must be open to the general public under New York State’s Open Meetings Law (NYOML). It concluded SLT meetings involve a public body performing governmental functions. The court also found that an SLT operates as a decision maker, along with the school’s principal, not as a mere advisor, in developing a comprehensive education plan (CEP), which involves a matter of public, rather than private, concern. As a result, it held that the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDE) decision that SLT meetings are not subject to NYOML is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the law.

Facts/Issues: Under state law and department of education regulations, every New York school must have an SLT. TheSLT is composed of a school administrator, teachers and parents who are charged with developing the school’s comprehensive education plan and other tasks involving collaborative decision-making at the school.

Michael Thomas, a retired teacher, asked to attend an SLT meeting at IS 49 on Staten Island. After initially receiving permission to attend, he was informed by the SLT’s chairperson that he could not attend because under the SLT’s by-laws only members of the “school community” could attend. Thomas has no affiliation with IS 49. Thomas filed suit. The Public Advocate for the City of New York, Letitia James, and Class Size Matters intervened in support of Thomas.

Thomas et al. argued that SLT meetings meet all the criteria for meetings specified in NYOML and, therefore, should be open to members of the public. NYCDE contended that SLTs play a limited advisory role in school governance and, thus, are not public bodies subject to NYOML.

Ruling/Rationale: The New York County Supreme Court held that SLTs are “public bodies” within the meaning of the NYOML, and, therefore, SLT meetings must be open to the general public. It indicated that it is well-established caselaw in New York courts that “decisions made at meetings of organizations associated with publicly funded schools are governmental decisions subject to the Open Meetings Law.”

Based on the factors set out in the caselaw, the court concluded  that SLT meetings involve “a public body performing governmental functions.” It found that under the state’s education laws SLTs are a vital part of school governance. It also noted that the public’s interest in such meetings was demonstrated by the fact that state law requires public announcement of SLT meetings in accordance with NYOML.

Finally, the court stressed that an SLT operates as a decision maker, along with the school’s principal, not as a mere advisor, in developing a school’s CEP, which involves a matter of public, rather than private, concern. As a result, it held that the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDE) decision that SLT meetings are not subject to NYOML is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the law. The court highlighted that the SLT acts in conjunction with the principal in formulating a CEP, making it a partner of the principal, as opposed to a subordinate.

Thomas v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., 100538/2014 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 23, 2015)

[Editor’s Note: On April 23, 2015, Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York reported on the court ruling. A spokesman for the city law department said the agency is reviewing the decision with the education department in order to decide on a response. He wouldn’t say whether they would appeal, adding only that the agencies are likely to discuss the possibility. Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said an appeal would be “pointless and a waste of taxpayer dollars, given this slam-dunk decision.”]

Tags: decision-making authority, New York, open meeting laws, public bodies, public funds, school governance

– See more at: http://legalclips.nsba.org/2015/05/07/new-york-state-court-rules-school-leadership-team-meetings-must-be-open-to-the-public#sthash.BKEIPqT1.dpuf

 

UFT Solidarity - "Building a Stronger Union."
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mrportelos

About Francesco Portelos

Parent and Educator fighting for the student and the teacher.
Bookmark the permalink.

7 Comments

  1. Claire Scesney Lundahl

    Congratulations on this victory.

  2. Please correct the website: http://www.classsizematters.org & Laura Barbieri’s name from Advocates for Justice and also add Mark Ladov, the other pro bono attorney in the case from NY Lawyers for Public Interest; thanks!

    Too bad that David Brodsky, as well as the DOE General Counsel Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, and David Ross head of contracts are still there; they have presided over a huge amount of mismanagement and corruption and should have been asked to leave DOE long ago.

  3. Congratulations! Transparency is key to fighting corruption and saving the children.

  4. Congratulations on a win for us all!

    Thank you, Leonie, Francesco, Michael, and the attorneys.

  5. Kudos galore! You have a calling in exposing the DOE cockroaches, so just keep on keeping on turning the kitchen lights in the middle of the dark corrupt nights of the NYC legal and judicial cesspools! The DOE could not have backstabbed its teachers without the willing complicity of the UFT; don’t let them fool you. If you use them, always keep your guard up! I have had the experience of having them try to placate me and make me believe they were on my side, while trying to assassinate my character and turning against me. I smelled their rat and was able to counteract their intentional deceit and assault on me with the help of Betsy Combier!

  6. Zulma, retired NYC math teacher

    Congrats to you and Michael for your Patience and Fortitude and for having a great team of lawyers to fight for transparency.

    Leonie is correct. Those individuals who are corrupt and violators of the laws since day 1 should be kicked down the stairs of Tweed. Brodsky should be disbarred. The others should hang their heads in shame for their mismanagement,lies and deceits. They should be fired.

  7. Having worked alongside Michael Thomas for much of my teaching career, I continue to be amazed by his work and drive, and I am proud to call him a friend. Not only has he taught me how to teach effectively, he has taught me how to fight for what’s right and to maintain integrity at all costs. Instead of continually trying to railroad this man, the DOE should get counsel from him. They would be a heck of a lot more effective if they did!

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.