Campbell Brown tearfully files tenure suit
Choking back tears, Campbell Brown announced Monday that her education reform group had formally filed a legal complaint in Albany seeking to invalidate New York's teacher tenure laws.
"This is not going to be easy and they are so incredibly brave to be taking this on," she said at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, with parents and children gathered around her.
Brown demurred on her role in bringing the lawsuit, saying she was "just proud to be holding the coats" of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, which she organized.
Brown, the former CNN anchor, told reporters that her group, the Partnership for Educational Justice (P.E.J.), may file more lawsuits against teacher tenure in other states. She has also recently indicated that she views legal action against teacher tenure as a potential opening to challenge an array of other union-backed teacher protections.
Seven families from throughout New York State are the official plaintiffs on the suit, Wright v. New York, which was filed with the State Supreme Court on Monday. Brown leaked news of the lawsuit's filing to the Daily News on Sunday.
The name plaintiff is Keoni Wright, a parent of twins from East New York, who said Monday that his two children received starkly different educations because of the varying quality of their teachers.
Brown's group will "provide the families and students with organizational and financial support as they take on the entrenched educational politics," a press release from P.E.J. said.
Brown was defiant when asked about the high legal threshold for proving that students are being systematically denied their right to a sound, basic education.
"We're under no illusions that this is going to be incredibly challenging," she said, adding, "when you're trying to change a system like this, when you're trying to fight powers that have been fighting to maintain the status quo for as long as they have. Do you think it's going to be easy? Of course it's not."
Brown and other P.E.J. representatives did not provide specific answers when asked why individual ineffective teachers were not named in the lawsuit. The suit contains hundreds of pages of academic and journalistic articles on the importance of effective teachers.
She argued that comparisons to other lawsuits that failed to prove that children's rights to a sound education were unfair, since the Wright v. New York lawsuit was the first of its kind. (A similar lawsuit challenging New York's teacher tenure laws was filed earlier this month, and may at some point be combined with Brown's suit.)
The suit will specifically challenge three basic tenets of tenure. The first, that schools districts must base layoffs off seniority, is known as the "first in, last out" mandate and has long been a sticking point for local education reform leaders. The second statute being challenged mandates that teachers are given or denied tenure after three years.
Brown and her allies say three years is an insufficient amount of time for teachers to be granted tenure. The suit also claims that tenure laws mandating due process for teachers under review have made it nearly impossible to fire ineffective or even dangerous teachers.
The suit is partially inspired by the ruling in Vergara v. California last month, in which a California judge found that many of the state's teacher protection laws violated children's right to a sound, basic education. The Wright case alleges that the same constitutional right is being violated in New York. Brown has said that her lawsuit has been in the works since 2013, long before the ruling in Vergara.
Wright v. New York specifically challenges New York Education Laws 3012, 3020, 3020-a, 2510, 2585, and 2588.
As previously reported, the lawsuit is being handled pro bono by a team of lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis, led by senior partner Jay Lefkowitz. On Monday, Lefkowitz called it a "privilege and a pleasure" to work with the parents and criticized the state legislature to passing a "web of statutes ... which effectively thwart these students and thwart the good teachers who want to teach them at every step of the way."
While the lawsuit was praised by national education reform figures like Michelle Rhee, New York's teachers unions sharply criticized the suit. New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee called the lawsuit "a politically motivated attack against every motivated teacher in New York state."
Representatives from the United Federation of Teachers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.