Suit attacking NJ seniority statute dismissed

Judge: plaintiffs’ facts “palpably insufficient”

Judge Mary Jacobson this afternoon dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn New Jersey’s seniority protections for tenured teachers. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 12 Newark students but was funded by a special interest group, former CNN host Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice. The suit alleged that New Jersey’s seniority policies could cause ineffective teachers to be retained over more effective, but less senior, teachers if Newark were to carry out staff reductions.

NJEA was not originally named in the case, but was granted the opportunity to intervene as a defendant. NJEA, along with AFT, filed today’s successful motion to have the case dismissed.

In her ruling from the bench, Jacobson called the facts cited by the plaintiffs “palpably insufficient,” noting that Newark has not enacted a reduction in force and has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future. Moreover, she observed, the plaintiffs could not identify any way in which they had been harmed by the statutes that they sought to have declared unconstitutional.

NJEA attorney Richard Shapiro and AFT attorney Steve Weissman argued, and Jacobson agreed, that TEACHNJ—the state’s recently enacted teacher tenure and evaluation law—addresses questions of teacher effectiveness and provides a pathway to ensure that effective teachers are in every classroom. If successful, the lawsuit would have gone against the legislative intention of TEACHNJ, because the Legislature explicitly chose to retain seniority rights for teachers when adopting that law in 2012.

In a statement applauding Jacobson’s ruling, NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer noted that seniority policies are in place to ensure that politics do not enter into decisions about who teaches New Jersey’s children.

“We are very pleased that the judge saw through this transparent attempt to undermine New Jersey’s seniority statute by making false claims and denigrating Newark’s dedicated educators,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “That statute exists to protect our schools from political interference in personnel decisions. It’s an important protection for students and educators alike.”

“Every student deserves a great public school and our members have worked hard to create the best public schools in the nation,” added NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan. “We are very happy that Judge Jacobson didn’t let an out-of-state, anti-educator special interest group come to New Jersey and disrupt that work. Now we must continue to focus on getting students in every New Jersey community the resources and support they need to thrive.”

NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller noted that it is the state’s mismanagement, not teacher effectiveness, that is at the heart of the issue in Newark.

“The lawsuit was a malicious attempt to blame educators for problems the state has created through its mismanagement of Newark’s public schools,” Spiller said. “Educators, parents and students in Newark have done incredible work in very challenging circumstances for many years, and deserve credit, not blame, for their efforts.”

This is not the first setback for the group that brought this lawsuit. A similar suit it filed in Minnesota was dismissed last year as well.

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