For the second time in two years, a court has ordered the city to open school leadership meetings to the public. And for the second time, it’s not clear if the city will actually open them.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for parents, students, educators and all of us who believe in transparency and accountability at the Department of Education,” wrote Public Advocate Letitia James, who joined a retired Manhattan teacher’s lawsuit alongside the advocacy group Class Size Matters. “Important decisions about our schools must be made in sunlight with input from parents and teachers.”
Under state law, every school must have a leadership team that includes the principal, parent association president, teachers union representative, and an equal number of elected parents and staff members. The teams are charged with creating annual comprehensive education plans, and must be consulted on certain key decisions, including hiring principals and assistant principals, and moving other schools into their buildings.
At issue is whether the leadership teams (SLTs) are simply offering advice, or play a role in actually governing schools. In a unanimous ruling from a four-judge panel, which reviewed the city’s appeal, the court found that, “It cannot be disputed that SLTs are established pursuant to state law and are a part of DOE’s ‘governance structure.’
“It also cannot be disputed that SLTs have decision-making authority to set educational and academic goals for a school through the [comprehensive education plan],” the opinion continued.
It was not immediately clear if the city plans to appeal the decision. The city’s education department declined to comment, referring all questions to the law department.
“The state legislature never intended to mandate that SLT meetings be open to the general public. We are considering our options,” wrote law department spokesman Nick Paolucci.
In the meantime, the court order requires the city to open school leadership meetings to the public immediately, and must offer public notice in line with open meetings laws, according to Anna Brower, a spokeswoman for the public advocate.
The city has balked at opening the meetings in the past. When a court ruled against the city in April 2015, it got a stay on the ruling and Chancellor Carmen Fariña instructed principals to keep the meetings closed while the case made its way through the appeals process.
This is not the first time the city has faced litigation over SLT meetings. In 2013, a Staten Island teacher sued after he was barred from a meeting at his school — a case the city won.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of a judge’s previous ruling on this lawsuit. It’s April 2015, not last April.