|Plaintiffs in the lawsuit along with Sen. Robert Jackson and attorney Wendy Lecker|
Our pro bono attorney, Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center, did a fabulous job, those of us in the courtroom agreed, which included two of the parent plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Litza Stark of Queens and Johanna Garcia of Manhattan, along with Johanna’s daughter Hailey, back from her first semester in college. NY Senator Robert Jackson, who spearheaded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, was also there to support us, as well as retired teacher Norm Scott.
A panel of five judges listened intently as Wendy related how the NYC Department of Education had violated the state Contracts for Excellence law passed in 2007, which specifically mandates that the city lower average class sizes in all grades over five years – but instead, class sizes had sharply increased so that they are now far larger than they were when the law was first passed. In response, the attorneys for the city and state tried to argue that since the five years outlined in the original law had lapsed, there was no longer any requirement for the DOE to lower class size.
The attorneys for the city and state also claimed that the court has no jurisdiction over this matter, but that the Commissioner of Education has the sole power to determine whether the city had adequately complied with the law. Yet as Wendy counter-argued, the court indeed has the authority to decide whether the Commissioner has accurately interpreted the language of the statute, and the court's authority to do so in regards the C4E law was specifically re-confirmed in 2011 by the Appellate judges in 2011. By essentially nullifying the city’s class size obligation under the law, Wendy said, the Commissioner had essentially usurped the legislature’s role.
Though one cannot predict how the court will rule, those of us in the room felt that Wendy’s arguments were far stronger than those of the city or state attorneys, who did not even try to dispute the facts in the case: that class sizes had increased sharply since 2007, and this had unfairly deprived NYC students of an quality education.
In any event, the Appellate Court will likely not issue any decision until this summer at least, and we are not content to sit back and wait for this to occur. Instead, we are urging the Mayor and the Council to put a down payment on the quality of our children’s education by allocating specific funding for class size reduction, starting next year in the early grades and in struggling schools. More on how you can help with this soon.