|Pictured left to right - David M. Quintana, Norman Siegel, William McDonald, Michael Myers - Director of New York Civil Rights Coalition on the steps of Tweed Courthouse|
Siegel filed a legal challenge in State Supreme Court yesterday afternoon, arguing that Education Commissioner David M. Steiner’s waiver to allow Black, who prior to her appointment had never set foot in a school was “arbitrary and capricious.” Siegel said that the judge scheduling a hearing on the matter for December 23rd – almost two weeks before Black is scheduled to take the reins of the nation’s largest school system shows that the court “recognizes the gravity of the situation.”
“It’s disappointing,” Siegel said in a telephone interview. “Public education brought me where I am today. That’s part of why I agreed to take this case. The rule of law is being challenged here and as a lawyer the rule of the law is very important to me.”
State education law requires anyone serving as “superintendent of schools” to meet a series of requirements, including a post-graduate degree and at least three years of educational experience – Black has neither, however was granted a waiver by Steiner, who said that the unique nature of the New York City schools system and her agreement to appoint Shael Polakow-Suransky as senior deputy chancellor warranted such action.
“The law is clear and he misinterpreted it,” said Siegel. “She met none of the qualifications. The law says that the evaluation must be based on her background – and hers alone, not on someone else’s.”
Asked about previous waivers, such as that of currentChancellor Joel I. Klein, Siegel noted that in retrospect perhaps it should have been challenged, but he likes to deal with “present circumstances.” He also noted that Klein had a law degree and had taught at a law school for three years prior to his appointment. Black on the other hand holds only a Bachelor’s degree and has never taught.
“As a proud public school graduate I want only the best for the students in this city; the case is about them,” said Siegel. He noted that his clients represent the diverse cross section of stakeholders. “We have parents representing every race and ethnicity as well as a teacher, who falls within a ‘zone of interest.’”
Siegel’s suit is the third one to be brought regarding Black’s appointment in the past week. News of the lawsuit came as Black met with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan during a visit to New York City to announce a new GED initiative. Asked about Black, Duncan said that he "had high hopes for her."
Court papers ask a judge to reverse Steiner’s waiver, essentially forcing New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to appoint a different schools chancellor.
“It’s time to set all of the politics and rhetoric aside and move forward for the sake of our kids,” said Natalie Ravitz, communications director for the city’s Department of Education. “Before she even starts the job on January 3rd, incoming Chancellor Cathie Black is already out visiting schools and reaching out to principals and teachers and parents. She is excited to get going and is committed to helping our schools thrive. It’s going to take all of us working together to help our students succeed.”
But Siegel, a former candidate for political office insists that this is “not a political issue – this is a serious legal matter.”
"The Department of Education needs to stop this mantra,” said Siegel. “During the 16 minutes we’ve been on the phone I have talked about the law – I haven’t made a single political comment.”
And he was right.
Contact Michael A. Harris at cityhall@examine