November 17, 2017

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State Orders New York City to Comply with Mandate for Secondary School Librarians

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In a signal victory for school library advocacy, New York City must stop violating state education regulations enforcing the minimum number of school librarians in high schools. According to the WSJ, the September 15 ruling by New York State (NYS) Commissioner of Education John King came in response to the latest United Federation of Teachers (UFT) appeal (concerning regulation 91.2). He ordered the NYC Department of Education (DOE) to comply with minimum staffing regulations requiring certified librarians in city secondary (middle and high) schools.

While King dismissed UFT’s appeal—partly based on the grounds that the UFT asserted claims on behalf of students affected by the staffing violations, and it wasn’t UFT’s place to do so—he sent a clear message in his written decision: “… respondents [DOE] are directed to comply with the requirements of 8 NYCRR §91.2 in the 2014−2015 school year and thereafter,” wrote King. “I am directing my Office of Curriculum and Instruction to provide guidance and technical assistance to respondents in doing so.”

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Click image to read the State Education Department’s ruling.

The road to this decision has been complex. According to §91.2, “all NYC secondary schools must employ a part-time certified school library media specialist, at minimum, and schools with more than 700 students must employ a full-time media specialist,” reported SLJ last August. The UFT has petitioned the state twice, since 2009, regarding New York City’s school librarian staffing violations, according to Alison Gendar, UFT spokesperson.

Adam Ross, general counsel for UFT, says, “I don’t think we were surprised [about the decision] at all. I think what we’re focused on now is the clean up.” That will be a significant task. “At the moment, we can safely say hundreds [of NYC schools] are out of compliance,” says Gendar.

In a breakdown of the number of certified school librarians employed by New York City schools in the 2012-2013 school year, nearly 350 schools are without a certified school librarian—some of those schools have well over 700 students. Closing the gap will be no small feat. Last year, Sara Kelly Johns, president of the New York Library Association (NYLA), estimated the cost for “the city to staff libraries at state standards” at about $24 million, according to CBS Local. Over the phone, Johns says King’s decision was the result of “many steps taken… from many sides, including [efforts by] NYLA… the [Alliance for Quality Education], Urban Libraries Unite, [NYLA’s Section of School Librarians], the [School Library Systems Association of New York State]… the staff of the school library system…”

NYSED_NYCDOE_B_v1How the DOE will implement the commissioner’s ruling remains unknown. The DOE should have a strategic plan in place for such a big operation, says Karen Sperrazza, president of NYLA’s Section of School Librarians.

“We are still assessing next steps,” DOE press secretary Devora Kay wrote in an email to SLJ. “We are working collaboratively with our partners on a plan to address this.”

Despite the lack of a specific plan for instating school librarians, advocates have cause for hope.

“School libraries bring tremendous value to school communities and ensuring all students have access to information services is priority,” writes Kay.

Jeremy Johannesen, NYLA’s executive director, calls the ruling a “good first step,” but argues that “younger students across New York will be denied this same benefit, because the [regulations] do not apply to primary schools.” To address this, he says, “NYLA is working on a bill that will require primary and secondary schools to provide access to a school library staffed by a qualified school librarian.”

“Two starter bills were already introduced in the Senate and the [New York State] Assembly at the end of this legislative session [June 2014],” says NYLA’s Johns. “It’s going to take a lot of work to implement… it can happen.”

You also may want to read prior related coverage from SLJ:

Educators, Parents Fight NYC Bid to Bypass State Mandate for School Librarians

NYC Teachers’ Union Urges State to Uphold School Librarian Staffing Mandate

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.

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Comments

  1. I am so glad and proud of the state of New York and the New York City have finally realized the important and value of a certified high school teacher/librarian. Here in Denver, Colorado we have not had that vision yet.
    I am a teacher librarian who is working as a Technology teacher who loves the library and my degree to be a teacher/librarian but there are still some high schools in the city that have not changed over to hiring a certified teacher/librarian.

    Dr. Dorothy Bernal Pyatok