In Class-Action Lawsuit, NYCLU Seeks to Compel State Remedies for "Failing Schools"

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 28, 2001 12:00 am

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In Class-Action Lawsuit, NYCLU Seeks to Compel State Remedies for “Failing Schools”


NEW YORK–In a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of children in 150 schools around the state, the New York Civil Liberties Union today charged officials with failing to provide all students with “a sound basic education,” as mandated by the state constitution.

“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,” said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU.

The lawsuit was filed today in State Supreme Court in Albany on behalf of approximately 75,000 children attending approximately 150 schools in nine districts around the state, including Hempstead, Roosevelt, Wyandanch, Westbury, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo.

In legal papers, the NYCLU charges that despite the constitutional promise of a sound education, 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.

According to the lawsuit, characteristics of “failing schools” generally include:

–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 too large for the many “high need” children
–inadequate programs for art, music or athletics
— lack of parental involvement in the life of the schools.

Eisenberg said that all “failing schools” do not necessarily suffer from all of these characteristics and that the causes of failure will vary from school to school. But each of the schools identified in the NYCLU 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 representatives 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.

Today’s lawsuit continues the NYCLU’s work to address education problems in the state. In 1998, the NYCLU filed a class action lawsuit charging the state and various education officials with racial discrimination, saying that in schools where 80 percent of the student body is comprised of racial and ethnic minorities, students are far less likely to receive essential educational services than those in predominantly white schools.

The NYCLU lawsuit also builds on the groundbreaking work done by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York City schools that helped to establish the principle that educational inadequacy must be remedied under the state constitution.

Defendants named in the lawsuit are the State of New York and various state officials, including Governor George Pataki and Richard P. Mills, Commissioner of the State Education Department. The NYCLU legal complaint is available online at

The National Urban League, represented by Velma Cobb at the press conference, is also participating in the lawsuit. Their statement follows.



New York, NY, March 28, 2001, Dr. Velma L. Cobb, Ed.D., Director of Education and Youth Development for the National Urban League and chief administrator of the League’s Campaign for African American Achievement, today issued the following statement in conjunction with a New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) press conference to unveil the NYCLU’s plans for a lawsuit against the State of New York, which charges that the State violates the constitutional rights of New York’s children to receive the opportunity for a sound, basic education.

“The National Urban League, which spearheads the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream, strongly supports the New York Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit demanding that the State of New York provide children with the constitutionally required opportunity for a sound, basic education.

At the heart of the Urban League movement are our Urban League affiliates in more than 100 cities in 34 states and the District of Columbia, including several throughout the State of New York. Unfortunately, the evidence that the public school systems in the communities served by our affiliates in Binghamton, Buffalo, Central Islip, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and White Plains are failing to provide our children the quality of education they need and deserve is compelling and unambiguous.

No citizen of this state or nation should tolerate school systems that force children to learn in substandard conditions and without adequate resources and supports. The conditions in these public schools provide dramatic illustration of the need for systemic education reform in New York. As National Urban League President Hugh Price has stated, this means creating 21st century schools for 21st century children, including, but not limited to, these critical improvements:

1. Recruiting a new generation of urban educators and compensating them on par with other professionals while holding them accountable for their performance.

2. Granting urban schools greater autonomy, but holding them accountable for their performance.

3. Replacing mammoth, obsolete, anonymous schools with new schools that are small, state-of-the art and focused on learning. There is substantial evidence that urban youngsters perform better in smaller schools.

The National Urban League hopes that the State of New York will respond to NYCLU’s actions with resources, practices, and policies that demonstrate a renewed commitment to ensuring that its public schools provide every child, whether black, white, Latino, poor, or of any other background or circumstance, the educational opportunities he or she needs to be equipped for equal citizenship and economic self-reliance in the 21st Century.”

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