NYC CHARTER SCHOOLS SUE TO GAIN ACCESS TO COVID-19 TESTING
Charter Schools in Both NYC DOE Buildings and Private Spaces Remain Excluded from DOE COVID-19 Testing Programs and Other Emergency Response Initiatives
(NEW YORK, N.Y.) – The New York City Charter School Center, along with five New York City charter schools and ten charter-school families, have sued the de Blasio Administration, asking a court to order the City to include public charter schools in its COVID-19 testing program.
The lawsuit asserts that NY law requires the City to provide testing to charter school students on the same terms as traditional public school students, but that the City’s Board of Education has refused to comply. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the Board has refused to include charter schools in its testing program even though it requires routine testing for students and faculty to return to district school buildings and provides testing for traditional public school students.
The plaintiffs, represented pro bono by Kent Yalowitz of Arnold and Porter, brought the lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court. They point to Section 912 of New York’s Education Law, which mandates that every school district must, upon request, provide children who attend non-public schools, including charter schools, “with any or all of the health and welfare services made available…to children attending the [traditional] public schools of the district.”
The plaintiffs argue that the City’s refusal to provide testing to their students on equal terms not only violates state law, but also undermines their efforts to bring tens of thousands of students safely back to classrooms.
“The entire city is in a public health crisis,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. “In response, and to their credit, New York City has created a vast testing and tracing system for public school students. But unfortunately, they have refused to make that same system available to charter school students, creating an unnecessary hurdle and neglecting public safety. The law is clear that the COVID-19 testing program should be made available to all students, including charter school students. That’s why we joined the lawsuit and why we are confident we will prevail.”
Janelle Bradshaw, CEO of Public Prep, said, “In the midst of a public health crisis that is impacting all of us, the notion of excluding charter school families in the Bronx and Lower East Side who are already dealing with food insecurity, unemployment, and the devasting impact of COVID-19, is unjust.” She added that “It is a matter of law and an issue of equity that all children have access to the tests we need to reopen and know will help keep children safely in school.”
“Providing routine COVID-19 testing to some students but not others harms children and families whose communities have been hardest hit by COVID,” said Emily Kim, Zeta Charter Schools’ CEO. “The law requires the City to provide equal health and welfare services to all NYC kids, and we are simply asking the Mayor to follow the law and do what is right for all NYC children, families, and teachers.”
“The health and safety of our students, staff, and communities are not negotiable,” said Stacey Gauthier, the Executive Director and Principal of The Renaissance Charter School. “Charter Schools must be afforded equal access to the same COVID-19 testing and tracing programs as district schools,” she added. “If we are going to resume in-person learning safely, it is essential to keep our schools and the community-at-large as safe as possible during this pandemic.”
“The City’s testing and tracing program should be open to all students, regardless of whether they attend a district or charter school,” said Lester Long, Founder & Executive Director of another plaintiff, Classical Charter Schools. “It makes no sense to create this program and have it available for one set of kids while excluding other kids from the tremendous benefit in safety, health, and security that it provides. As an educator, I have seen first-hand how important the in-person schooling we provide students is. Putting up this artificial and unnecessary barrier to getting back to closer to normal schooling isn’t right or in the best interests of students and our city.”
In addition to the lawsuit, schools and families are planning a series of actions over the next few weeks to implore the Mayor to support their plans for in-person learning.