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3 Teachers Sue Huntington District

Dual-language program at center of tenure and layoff dispute.

Three teachers have filed a federal lawsuit against the , saying they lost their tenured positions to less-experienced colleagues who were hired for the dual-language program.

Kristin Kopf, Marilyn Broomer and Vincenza Caruso filed the suit Feb.7. Kopf and Caruso lost their tenured jobs in June 2010; Broomer lost hers in June.

At the center of the legal case is the dual-language program, which mixes English-speaking children and those whose first language is Spanish, in classes that alternate instruction between the two languages.  

In addition to the seniority issue, their suit questions the benefit of the program itself and says the teachers were discriminated against on the basis of race and national origin.

The suit, brought by attorney Steven A. Morelli of Garden City, was filed in U.S. District Court in Islip and reads in part  “…Plaintiffs have been adversely affected by the increase in Spanish-English dual-language classes in Huntington UFSD, through being ‘excessed’ and replaced by less-experienced bilingual teachers... the dual-language classes in Huntington UFSD have illegally encroached upon the established seniority system for teachers, while demonstrating only questionable worth in improving the education of Huntington students.”

Superintendent James Polansky didn't comment on the lawsuit.

But he said, "The dual-language sections are by no means any more costly than standard elementary sections. The total number of elementary sections at any grade level would be identical, regardless of whether a particular section were identified as dual language or not. In fact, if the program were not in place, state-mandated services would need to be delivered in an alternate manner associated with the potential for additional cost and less success." 

The dual-language program has been operating for years in the district, and runs sections in the first through fifth grades, with classes conducted at Jefferson, Southdown, Flower Hill, Washington and Woodhull, Polansky said.

But Morelli said the program runs “on the backs of teachers who have demonstrated loyalty and whom the children love.”

Broomer and Caruso are working as leave replacement positions in the district.

The three can count their colleagues who are junior to them but still employed because of the dual-language program: Broomer says there are 12 behind her on the seniority list; Kopf counts 10 and Caruso 11.

Caruso, who, as a leave replacement, is teaching in the English portion of the dual-language program, said of the temporary assignment, “We have jobs but we want our jobs back.” She has two children in the district and said she is worried about the future. She previously taught fourth grade at Woodhull.

"It's terrible that we can't see the kids, can't see them move up," Kopf, who taught first grade at Flower Hill, said.

Broomer, who served as a union representative at Woodhull where she was a fifth-grade teacher, said the union had been unable to assist them. The lawsuit says the district intimidated teachers at a faculty meeting and through the teachers union. Representatives of the union were not immediately available for comment.

“The dual-language classes are elementary classes that fulfill state requirements related to the instruction of English language learners.  They provide the additional benefit of high quality bilingual instruction for all students in the classroom, regardless of their native language," Polansky said.

"Students who have worked their way through the program have been successful in completing a Regents-level language curriculum once they reach the sixth grade. It is a popular program; students are selected via lottery," he said.

The teachers say they are worried about future layoffs and say that several teachers received notices this week that they could lose their jobs. And they argue that the layoffs hurt not only the educators but the students who are then taught by less-experienced teachers.

The lawsuit seeks damages and names as defendants the district, John Finello, who was superintendent when the challenged layoffs occurred but has since retired, assistant superintendent Joseph Giani, Carmen Kasper, director of foreign language, ESL and bilingual programs, and Polansky.

This story has been updated to correct educational information provided by one teacher. Caruso said she went to elementary and middle schools in the district, and started at Huntington High School before switching to a Catholic school.

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Ron Gault March 16, 2012 at 01:59 PM
JSC your argument reveals a conceptual error. Without understanding the concept there is no explaining the situation. Perhaps I could use an analogy? The town, unfortunately, manages trash and road maintenance. Suppose due to a demographics shift we had one trash crew too many. Everyone on the most junior crew had 5 years seniority with the town. They get laid off. At the same time the town hires a new heavy equipment operator with the proper certification and license. This is what we have here. Seniority does not ensure you have a job. It merely ensures no one junior to you is hired to do the job you are capable of. The two larger questions are: should we have a dual language track? What do the studies say? Is there evidence one way or another. And why do we have seniority? The problems seem to be outweighing the advantages (for the taxpayer and the students).
Personal opinion March 31, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Well stated. People need to look into 1) educational mandates for districts that have high population of students of speakers of languages other than English 2) research that discusses the benefits of these programs, benefits that are not limited to English language learners. Furthermore, to say that the program is in place at the expense of the community is reflective of The lack of misinformation. As stated in previous posts and by Mr. Polansky himself, it saves money in the long run. Although it is terrible to see teachers like those filing the law suit excessed, to say that it is because of a racial issue makes me ask who is counseling this teachers? Dual language teachers have the same certification as any elementary plus an extension to teach in these programs. The teachers filing the suit cannot teach in the program because of lack of certifications, NOT because they are not of Latino decent. These teachers have chosen to be in a district of diverse learners, as educators they must understand that programs are in place not for the benefits of teachers but THE CHILDREN.
Personal opinion March 31, 2012 at 10:53 PM
If they want to teach in a community where the population of students are speakers of another language, why not? Just like a real estate company may want to hire a bilingual secretary to benefit its sales in a community of Spanish speakers. Also, the fight is not against bilingualism, these teachers are getting excessed because of lack of funding by our government. Funding for EDUCATION period bilingual or not. That is the problem at the core of this issue.
Personal opinion March 31, 2012 at 11:19 PM
@ Jsc below- dual language teachers are elementary certified they simply have an extension (additional course work and testing needed to acquire). Your comparison of a high school teacher being bumped by an elementary teacher is a poor comparison, in that case it is a different certification and course work being taught. Dual language-teaching the same as as every other elementary teacher same content just doing it in 2 languages.
Merissa Dolan April 28, 2012 at 12:11 AM
I love mrs Caruso.

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