Monday, January 25, 2016
Plaintiffs in East Ramapo, New York, have brought a unique claim against New York's Education Department. They allege that it is liable for the local school board's mismanagement of the school district. They argue that the school board is being driven by board members who send their children to private schools and do not have the public schools' interests at heart. Plaintiffs rely on a number of recent third-party investigations and reports that document the school board's "fiscal mismanagement, misuse of funding and resources, and favoritism toward private school students," which have caused an inadequate and unqualified supply of teachers, denials of basic services for special needs students and English Language Learners, denials of access to music and art, and a shortage of equipment and supplies. This mismanagement, they argue, deprives students' of the constitutional right to a sound basic education in the state.
This claim is analogous to a theory I forwarded here, arguing that local student assignment practices deprived students of their constitutional education rights and warranted legal action again the district. The point was that many of the legal duties imposed on the state in school finance litigation also extend to the local district, assuming that the local district's actions are the cause of an educational deprivation. The twist this new lawsuit includes is that, because the ultimate duty to ensure a constitutional education rests with the state, it is still the state that is obligated to step in and rectify local violations. Thus, rather than asking a court to force the local board to rectify the violations, it asks that the court order to the state to intervene in the district. This is a case to watch. It is being litigated by the Education Law Center and O’Melveny & Myers, so it is sure to be well-handled.