NYC to appeal ruling opening schools' leadership meetings to public

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told New York City public school principals last week to ignore a state court ruling that schools’ decision-making meetings are subject to the state’s open meetings law, according to Chalkbeat New York.

The New York City Department of Education plans to appeal the April 21 ruling by the New York State Supreme Court, which held that meetings of the School Leadership Teams should be open to the general public.

Each city school must have an SLT, which helps develop a school’s comprehensive education plan that outlines “a school’s goals, needs and strategies for the coming school year,” according to the court’s decision. The principal must also consult the SLT when establishing the school’s budget.

Members of the SLT include a school’s principal, the parent-teacher association president, the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader and 7-14 additional members balanced between parents and faculty members.

Michael Thomas, a retired teacher, challenged the Department of Education after he was told he could not attend a school’s SLT meeting. The SLT’s bylaws limited attendance to those part of the school community.

Thomas argued that the meetings should be open to the public, citing the role that the meetings play in determining the policies of public schools.

Judge Peter Moulton agreed, writing that because SLTs are established by law in New York to have a voice in the operations of a school, they are public bodies subject to the open meetings law.

“If it is fulfilling its statutory role, a school’s SLT is not a mere advisor to the principal,” Moulton wrote. “The proper functioning of public schools is a public concern, not a private concern limited to the families who attend a given public school.”

The judge relied on previous New York court rulings that applied the open meetings law to a college’s student fee committee and a college’s faculty senate: “[D]ecisions made at meetings of organizations associated with publicly funded schools are governmental decisions subject to the Open Meetings Law.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said in a statement to Chalkbeat that confidential school discussions regarding personnel decisions and individual students would be compromised by opening the meetings to the public.