Photo Courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is named in the suit.
By Michael V. Cusenza
City public school parents and education advocates recently filed a lawsuit against Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the City Department of Education, and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in an Albany court to demand that class sizes be reduced in Big Apple schools.
Represented by attorney Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center, nine parents from all five boroughs, Class Size Matters, and the Alliance for Quality Education have cited in their 21-page complaint 2007’s Contract for Excellence Law, which required the City Department of Education to lower class size in all grades over five years. Instead, class sizes have risen substantially since then, the plaintiffs noted.
In July 2017, these same parents and advocates appealed to Elia to demand that she enforce the C4E law and force DOE to reduce class sizes. Instead, Elia dismissed the petition in December 2017, claiming that the City’s obligation to reduce class size had “expired,” even though the class-size provision remains in the law, the plaintiffs said.
So the advocates and parents last Thursday moved to legally challenge that decision. They’re asking State Supreme Court to overturn Elia’s decision and order the City to fulfill its obligations under the C4E law to lower class size, “so that the city’s children have an opportunity to obtain the sound basic education to which they are entitled under the State constitution.”
“The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during 5th grade math. He had just received a “0” for participation,” said JoAnn Schneider, a Queens parent and plaintiff in the suit. “In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn have been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”
A report released last month by the City Council even acknowledged that the administration “still has not met the agreed-upon class size reduction goals established in 2007.”
“It is unfortunate that it has come to the point where a lawsuit is needed to address the issue of reducing class size,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “As a former NYC public school teacher, I know how important small class size is to improved student outcomes. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of our students are still crammed into classes of 30 or more and do not receive the attention they need to succeed. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately.”
Queens is all too familiar with public school class-size controversies. As Borough President Melinda Katz recently noted in her 2018 State of the Borough address, Queens schools are the most overcrowded and underfunded of Gotham’s five boroughs. While most other boroughs are below capacity, Katz pointed out that Queens schools as a whole exceed capacity at 108 percent, with 116-percent capacity at its elementary schools and 113-percent capacity in its high schools.
Queens, however, also receives the lowest amount of funding per pupil than every other borough.
“[A]s we look to where we will be and where we want to be…it’s clear we need more, and our families deserve more,” Katz said.