New York City’s local teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), is urging NY State Commissioner of Education Dr. John King to deny a recent request by the city’s Department of Education (DOE) that the city’s public schools be exempted from state minimum staffing requirements for certified school library media specialists, the UFT tells School Library Journal. King has not yet issued a ruling on the matter.
UFT made its statement to Commissioner King last week—via official correspondence drafted by the union’s legal counsel, Adam Ross—in response to the DOE’s August 9, 2013, request to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) that it be granted a waiver to the school librarian staffing mandate, which has been in place for decades.
“The United Federation of Teachers (“UFT”) opposes the DOE’s request and urges the Commissioner to deny the proposed variance which would negatively impact children,” Ross says in the statement, a copy of which was recently made available to SLJ.
DOE only submitted its waiver request, the UFT says, to avoid legal ramifications stemming from its years of quiet noncompliance with Commissioner’s Regulation 91.2. The rule stipulates that all NYC secondary schools must employ at least a part-time certified school media specialist, and schools with more than 700 students must employ a full-time media specialist.
In recent years, the UFT has called for the DOE’s compliance via two petitions to NYSED as well as legal proceedings in state supreme court. The UFT has been waiting for months for a response from King on the second of its petitions, which it filed late last year. According to the UFT, city officials admit that more than half of the city’s secondary schools are in violation of this mandate.
In last week’s UFT statement, Ross notes that the DOE’s request for a waiver violates the NY State Administrative Procedure Act (APA) 204, which sets forth the steps that the DOE must follow when seeking a variance from any regulatory mandate. These procedures include publication of the proposed variance, a 30-day notice and comment period, notice to the UFT, and a hearing if the request is opposed by the UFT, “which it is,” Ross says.
“In seeking approval for a variance from 91.2, the DOE has not complied with any of these procedures,” Ross says. “Accordingly, it would be a violation of the APA to grant the variance until the DOE has complied with these procedures.”
Further, Ross explains, the regulations permit the Commissioner to approve an “alternative arrangement” to the requirements of 91.2 only if the alternative provides “equivalent service” in which ”all stakeholders have been appropriately involved in the process of developing the alternate method.”
“None of these requirements have been met and as such, the request should be denied,” Ross says, adding, “Specifically, the DOE’s proposal does not comply with the ‘equivalent service’ requirement insofar as it seeks to either a) provide library services without assigning LMSs or teachers; or b) assign teachers to perform the work of LMSs. Yet, dozens of qualified LMSs have been excessed from their positions as a result of the DOE’s continued non-compliance.”
These types of services are “certainly not equivalent to what is envisioned by 91.2,” Ross says, “and deprives students of the benefit of a trained, certified LMS who can engage with and guide them in the development of critical research skills.”
The UFT also insists the DOE’s variance request should be denied because it is unnecessary.
“The DOE has provided no explanation or rationale for its request beyond a claimed need for ‘greater flexibility.’ There is absolutely no need for a variance and that the contribution of LMSs to the school community is vital and irreplaceable,” Ross says. “The DOE claims that a variance will allow it to focus on ‘strengthening the basic library services afforded to all students.’ However, such a variance will have the opposite effect by reducing available library services and depriving students of one of the most components of education that 91.2 seeks to protect.”
Requests for comment from NYSED were not returned at press time, although Tom Dunn, director of communications for NYSED, told SLJ last month that the state would likely not comment to the media on the matter until it had prepared its official response to the city.