Saturday, October 11, 2008

UFT Press Release On Educators Wearing Political Campaign Pins in Schools

From: Davene Stern []
Sent: Friday, October 10, 2008 2:49 PM
To: UFT Press
Cc: UFT Press
Subject: UFT Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Department of Education Ban On Educators Wearing Political Campaign Pins in Schools

Ron Davis (212) 598-9201 October 10, 2008

(917) 796-1301

UFT Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Department of Education Ban

On Educators Wearing Political Campaign Pins in Schools

With only weeks to go before the November 4 elections, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) today filed a federal court lawsuit claiming that a New York City Department of Education policy banning educators from wearing campaign pins in schools violates their constitutional rights to free speech and political expression.

The union representing New York City’s public school educators filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking a temporary restraining order against the policy, which city schools Chancellor Joel Klein urged principals to enforce in an October 1 e-mail message to administrators in the city’s 1,500 public schools – even though it has not been followed for decades.

The plaintiffs are UFT President Randi Weingarten; Miriam DelMoor, a technology teacher at the George F. Bristow School, CS 134, in the Bronx; Anthony Thompson, a physical education and health teacher at the Wakefield School, PS 16, in the Bronx; Frank Soriente, a common branches teacher at PS 121 in Queens; and David Pecoraro, a social studies teacher at Beach Channel High School in Queens. The named defendants are the New York City Board of Education and Chancellor Klein.

Weingarten outlined the union’s case for reporters during a press conference before she and attorney Norman Siegel and attorneys from the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP filed the papers at the Southern District courthouse at 500 Pearl Street. She noted that the union has operated in the same way with respect to political speech in schools over two decades, carefully balancing teachers’ responsibilities as professionals and as citizens.

The UFT sent an email message to its union representatives – known as chapter leaders – in city public schools on September 23 regarding the wearing of political buttons during school hours, the hanging of posters and the distribution of other political materials along with regular union distributions. That email message is virtually identical to that which was sent to chapter leaders in 2000 and 2004.

About two days later, the chancellor’s office contacted the UFT to say that the wearing of campaign buttons and the distribution of political materials is prohibited by Chancellor’s Regulation D-130, which requires all Department of Education staff to “maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates” while on duty or in contact with students. It also prohibits the use of school facilities and supplies, including school mailboxes and even bulletin boards designated for UFT use, to express support for any political candidate except “as an integral part of regularly published staff newspapers or newsletters.” That was followed by the chancellor’s October 1 Principal’s Weekly e-mail notice to administrators.

“The ban on members wearing lapel pins is bad enough,” Weingarten told reporters. “Now the Department of Education wants to restrict the communications between the UFT and its members through the regular channels utilized for such communications such as union bulletin boards and employee mailboxes, both of which are out of students’ view.

“The ‘what if’ scenarios the Chancellor has raised have not happened in two decades,” Weingarten continued. “Why would they create shibboleths now simply to deny educators freedom of expression?”

“It doesn’t matter whether you support Democratic Senator Barack Obama or Republican Senator John McCain,” Weingarten said. “As voters, we all should have the right to express our views. By suppressing political expression, the Department of Education is sending the wrong message to our students. We are just weeks away from a landmark presidential election that is being discussed in classrooms and at dinner tables across the nation. Students can only benefit from being exposed to and engaged in a dialogue about current events, civic responsibilities and the political process.”

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