Saturday, April 22, 2017

More grounds for removal of Paladino: violating student privacy

Austin Harig and Carl Paladino
On  June 22, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will hold a hearing on the legal petition of the Buffalo Board of Education to remove Carl Paladino from his seat on the Board.

Though Paladino has made many outrageous and even racist comments, including most recently about former President Obama and his wife Michelle, the best legal grounds for removing him, according to the Board's attorney, is for violating law or specific Board policies.  Thus the Board is focusing its appeal on the basis of Paladino's breaching the confidentiality of discussions while the Board was in Executive Session.

Yet unmentioned so far in terms of these proceedings is how last spring, Paladino violated several student privacy laws, both federal and state, in breaching the privacy of a Buffalo high school student, Austin Harig, who ran against him in the School Board elections and lost by only 132 votes.  On election night, Paladino revealed to the media that Harig had been recently suspended, which is personal student information barred from disclosure by education officials such as Paladino by the federal law known as FERPA as well as two state laws.

See the letter below that we sent yesterday to the Buffalo Board President, Dr. Nevergold, on this issue, on behalf of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and NYS Allies for Public Education.

Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold
President, Buffalo Board of Education

April 21, 2017    

Dear Dr. Nevergold and the Buffalo Board of Education:

We support your efforts to remove Carl P. Paladino from the Buffalo Board of Education for official misconduct in breaching confidential discussions that occurred in the Board’s executive sessions.

We would like to add that Mr. Paladino breached the confidentiality of education records when he announced to the media that his opponent in the recent school board elections, Austin Harig, an 18-year-old high school student, had recently been “suspended from school for tardiness and not showing up while he is running for office.” [1]

This disclosure is a clear violation of student privacy, by revealing sensitive information from education records for unauthorized purposes and without the consent of the student or his parents. 

As an education official, Mr. Paladino’s disclosure of this information to the media is a violation of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) passed in 1974, as well as the NY Personal Privacy Protection Law (Public Officers Law, Article 6-A, sections 91-99) passed in 1984, and the Student Privacy law approved as part of the New York budget in 2014 (Education Law SB 6356 § 2-d. Unauthorized release of personally identifiable information.)

We urge you to include this egregious violation of student privacy and of federal and state law in your testimony and legal appeal to the Commissioner for Mr. Paladino’s removal. 

We also strongly support the thousands of Buffalo community members and New Yorkers who are calling for his removal based on his many racist statements, including his comments about the former President and First Lady. 

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson, co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy
Lisa Rudley, Executive Director, NYS Allies for Public Education

Commissioner Maryellen Elia:
Chancellor Betty Rosa at  
Frank W. Miller Esq. at   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The push for privatization continues at the state and federal level

The NY budget was signed, sealed and delivered last Monday - eight days past the deadline.

We dodged one bullet in that the Assembly managed to block lifting the charter school cap, which would have been disastrous for NYC.  Yet Foundation aid, designed to go primarily to  high-needs public schools, was short-changed once again -- with a mere $700 million added statewide.  This was less than the $900 million proposed by the Republican/IDC-led Senate, and far less than either the $1.4 billion put forward by the Democratic-led Assembly or the $1.8 billion increase recommended by the Board of Regents.  

Foundation aid was established after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was settled, requiring that NY funds public schools equitably.  About $3.8 billion is owed districts around the state in additional foundation aid, according to the formula, according to the NY state 
Association of School Business Officers, $4.3 billion according to the Alliance for Quality Education
Governor Cuomo not only has refused to fully fund Foundation Aid, he actually proposed eliminating it altogether starting in FY 2019 -- which thankfully, even the GOP-led State Senate refused to consider.

At the same time, funding for charter schools was increased by $50 million, while the supplement that NYC must pay to charters to pay for their rent in private space was boosted to 30% per charter student -- which will cost the DOE an estimated $8 million above what they currently must spend on charter leases.  Already, NYC pays more than $1.7 billion per year for charters for operating aid, and $40 million on leases, and this will increase that amount.

This is evidence yet again of preferential treatment for NYC charters, where we have the most overcrowded public schools in the state.  There seems to be little or no concern about the fact that currently 550,000 NYC public school students are jammed into overcrowded facilities, according to DOE data. 

Why the insistence on guaranteeing more funding and space to NYC charter schools by the Governor and the Republican-led Senate?  Is it the huge financial contributions made to these politicians from pro-charter groups such as New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which spent $5.2 million electing Republican State Senators,  or the vast amounts received by Cuomo from the same bunch of pro-charter hedge funders ? 

Fred LeBrun of the Times-Union said it best in explaining the influence of the charter lobby in Albany and elsewhere:
It's not the charter schools I referenced above that hold the power, and certainly not the 122,000 or so young New Yorkers who attend them, predominantly in New York City. It's the relative few billionaire hedge fund investors in charters looking for the return on their investment who would have the ability to hold up our budget until they get theirs. Because they in turn have become generous contributors to the governor and the Republican Senate. Again, the political donors benefit directly from the actions the governor and senators take on their behalf.....  
I can hear the charter crowd screaming that they are also public schools, because it says so in the legislation creating them. That's a lot of hooey.... They are private schools masquerading as public schools. And until the day comes, if ever, that you the taxpayer vote on the boards running charters funded in your school district, and yearly vote where every dollar is to be spent, as happens across the state with real public schools, then charters are bogus public schools.
At the same time we are fighting the Wall Street privateers in NY, the Trump/DeVos regime want to drastically slash funding for public schools while expanding federal support to charters and private schools.  For more on what this means, see the invaluable resource  School Privatization Explained recently released by the Network for Public Education. 

It includes 13 different fact sheets that separate fact from fiction, on issues ranging from "Are charter schools truly public schools?" and "Do charter schools get better academic results than public schools?" to "Are online charter schools good options for families?

The Trump administration is considering a plan to allow federal tax credits to be granted to wealthy individuals who subsidize private and religious schools.  NPE explains how these tax credits, already authorized in 17 states, are really vouchers by a different name. In fact, they may be worse than vouchers in that in some states, wealthy individuals and corporations can actually make a profit from donating to private schools, taking a 100% credit off their state taxes while claiming a deduction off their federal taxes at the same time. 

For more on this, check out Kevin Welner's explanation of how the benign-sounding tax credits are really "vouchers on steroids" or the podcast Have you Heard?, which dissects this horrific scam in detail.

The NPE website also features an interactive map, showing which states use which particular schemes to encourage the diversion of public funds towards charters and private schools.

Meanwhile, the privatization lobby and the elected officials they support claim to be encouraging parent "choice" -- though the first choice of most parents is a sufficiently-resourced neighborhood public school that provides their children with small classes and a well-rounded education.  

And yet these are the very conditions that so many of these officials actively undermine through their refusal to fund our public schools equitably.  See how Donald Trump wants to totally eliminate Title II funds, used in NYC to lower class size, or Randi Weingarten on Trump's "Indecent Proposal" in the Huffington Post. More on how you can help stop these cuts from happening soon.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Amazing evening - parents and teacher sit in at CPE I demanding principal's removal

Update:  Apparently on the Brian Lehrer show this morning, Mayor de Blasio said he would meet with the parents at CPE I.  Let's hope he follows through and removes the principal post-haste.

Yesterday afternoon I attended an amazing School Leadership Team meeting at Central Park East I, the renowned East Harlem progressive elementary school founded in 1974 by Debbie Meier. Since Monica Garg was appointed the principal last year, the school has devolved into angry accusations by parents, teachers and alumnae that she is intent on undermining the morale and democratic spirit of the school and destroy its progressive traditions.

School Leadership Team meetings are now open to the public since we won our lawsuit in October vs. the DOE and Chancellor Farina in a unanimous decision by the NY Appellate Court. 

More than 100 people crowded into the music room at CPE 1 to watch the meeting- advocates, parents and teachers from throughout the city, UFT reps, newly elected City Council Member Bill Perkins and former CM Robert Jackson.

At the meeting the CPE parents repeatedly brought up how the principal, Monica Garg, had repeatedly lied to them, had ruled the school in an authoritarian manner, had victimized children by her actions, and had removed at least two teachers who opposed her and put them in the rubber room -- the latest one the UFT chapter leader Marilyn Martinez.
A teacher on the SLT said that every single teacher who challenged her were put under investigation one by one by the DOE. One parent on the SLT, K.A. Dilday, made the point that not a single teacher said they trusted the principal on last year's DOE survey, and the majority of parents at the school have signed a petition asking for her removal. The principal, Monica Garg, then said that many of those teachers have since left the school -- and the audience erupted - of course they did -- you pushed them out!
Finally, parent and SLT member K.A. Dilday read a letter signed by many other members of the SLT, asking her to resign. Garg said she refused to resign and that she answers only to her superiors, the Superintendent Alexander Estrella and Chancellor Farina.
There were so many people crowding the room that the meeting they had to move it to the auditorium. At that point, one after another parent stood up and passionately spoke out how the principal had lied to them, had refused to respond to their concerns about events that had happened at the school, and one parent stood up in tears to say that Garg had grilled her child without her present, and tried to make her admit that her teacher had abused her.

The latest outrage was putting beloved teacher Marilyn Martinez in the rubber room with charges DOE has refused to make public. Only one parent at the school spoke in support of the principal. LeRoy Barr of the UFT spoke and said that Carmen Farina was responsible for this problem and she needs to fix it.
Finally, when the meeting was over and everyone had their say, a bunch of parents and a teacher on the SLT held up a banner and said they wouldn't leave until the principal resigned or was removed.
They explained that they had attended every PEP meeting for the last year, directly urging the Chancellor to take action, where she had responded with a dismissive shrug to their concerns.They had sent letters to the Mayor and had petitions signed with over 2000 people asking for him to intervene, with no success.
They then began to sing, we will not be moved, and this little light of mine. They even sang in honor of Debbie Meier's birthday, the renowned founder of the school, who has also tried to intercede on their behalf. The custodian asked for them to leave and said he was going to turn the lights out, and they refused.

Ten to twenty police were there and outside, where a rally for CPE I was taking place, along with Marilyn Martinez, the chapter leader who had tape over her mouth.

The police were constantly on their radio, and apparently, someone in the Police Department or the Mayor's office decided it would not look good to arrest parents, especially in an election year.

The parents and teacher spent the night in the auditorium, with the heat off and temperatures fell to the 30's, according to Jen Roesch, one of the parents sitting in. Their press release is below.
Whatever side you are on, whether you believe the principal or the parents, the reality is that the principal must be removed for the school's survival.Below is a video from Deb Meier and a press release from parents at the school this morning.

The truth is despite all his promises and talk about how unlike Bloomberg, he would listen to parents, our supposedly progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina have been just as high-handed and dismissive of their concerns.

From: Jennifer Roesch <>
Date: April 7, 2017 at 7:51:08 AM EDT
To: "" <>
Subject: Parents Occupy East Harlem School Overnight Demanding Principal's Removal
***Breaking Update: Following a meeting of more than 100 parents, teachers and community members, families have been occupying their school at CPE1 since 6:30pm on Thursday, April 6th. The DOE has promised to send someone to meet with occupying families at 8am. Parents are asking Mayor de Blasio to step in and resolve the crisis at CPE1 by removing Principal Garg immediately. Supporters and families will be holding a press conference and rally at 8:30am to explain their demands and next steps in their struggle.***
CONTACT: Jen Roesch (917) 319-7008 or
Kaliris Salas-Ramirez (718) 704-7387
Kenya Dilday,
Parents Sitting In at Central Park East 1 to Demand Principal’s Removal
Letter Sent to Mayor DeBlasio asking him to personally intervene after DOE’s failure to address long-standing issues
Majority of Families Want ‘Worst Principal’ in NYC Out; Retaliation Against Teachers, Abuse of Parents, Children Must Stop
Afternoon of April 6th, Central Park East 1 at 1573 Madison Avenue: Parents, including members of the Parents’ Association leadership and School Leadership Team, are currently refusing to leave their school until their principal, Monika Garg, either resigns or is removed. They say they represent a majority of parents who have signed a statement of “no confidence” in the principal. This letter was presented at the School Leadership Team immediately preceding the sit-in. Other parents and supporters are holding a solidarity rally outside.
Parents say they have appealed to the DOE for over a year about significant concerns but have not had their needs adequately addressed. Garg is statistically the WORST principal in NYC: she has had the greatest drop in ratings from parents and teachers on the 2016 DOE school survey of any principal in the city and oversaw the city’s largest drop in test scores after her traumatic first year at the helm (2016). NYC has approximately 1800 public schools. They are refusing to leave until Mayor De Blasio intervenes. They cite his claim that his administration will make parent voice and building trust in our schools a top priority.

Parents cite serious concerns about Principal Garg’s leadership, including abuse of teachers, children and families. Two teachers have been removed from the school for investigations that parents consider retaliatory in nature. The investigations come in the wake of an open letter signed by tenured staff expressing concerns. Another third of the teaching staff left at the end of last year. All tenured teachers have faced investigations and disciplinary action under Garg’s tenure.
Parents say that children have been harmed as a result of these investigations. Garg interviewed very young children without parents’ knowledge or consent. Many only found out as a result of other parents whose children had told them. In one instance, a 7-year old child had documented emotional issues and was being assisted by the school guidance counselor. This child was interviewed without his parent or his guidance counselor being informed. He was asked about 2-year old incidents and told that his cooperation was necessary in order to keep his school safe. This parent failed to receive an answer to her concerns from either Garg or the DOE. More than 55 parents filed complaints with the DOE without any response. Children in the classes with teachers removed are suffering emotional and social distress and have not received proper support.
Since her appointment in 2015, which came via a questionable process, Garg has deliberately fomented division, mistrust and turmoil at the iconic public progressive elementary school. With the support of District 4 Superintendent Alexandra Estrella, Garg has harassed and retaliated against teachers, mistreated students and families, and undermined the school’s successful practices.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Update on the state budget!: Call the Governor and your Senator today

      An informed source from Albany says:
The state budget is deadlocked over charter school funding vs. foundation aid for our public schools.

The Governor and the Senate want to double charter funding while minimizing foundation aid, and the Assembly is fighting back hard.
See this video of Speaker Carl Heastie.

Keep the pressure on the Governor and Senate Republicans and the Democrats in the IDC who caucus with the Republicans. 

Call Gov. Cuomo at (518) 474-8390 and as soon as you get a message, hit 1 to get his voicemail.
Alternatively you can send him a fax at 518-474-1513 via

You can find your Senator’s phone number by filling out the form here. 

Sample message: Stop favoring charter schools over public schools!  I urge you to fully fund foundation aid & minimize the increase in charter funding, which drain resources and space from our public schools.

Thanks, name and address 

Photos from yesterday's rally outside Cuomo's midtown office.