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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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Concerned Resident March 06, 2012 at 06:35 PM
@John. These teachers are victims of budget cuts. I feel sorry for them for that. I lost a job due to budget cuts too. It happens to plenty of people. they really need to accept it and move on instead of being angry because of their sense of entitlement. These teachers are not certified in bilingual education, so they cannot teach the bilingual classes which, as we all know by now, are mandated by law. State mandates and education law re. teacher certification trump union seniority rules. The real problem here is that this lawsuit is going to cost us, the taxpayers, a pretty penny. The district doesn't have in-house counsel, and uses an outside firm .The attorney representing the district is paid at a minimum of $225/hr. Costs can add up pretty fast with all the phone calls between attorneys, etc. Take a look at the line item in the proposed 2012-2013 budget. Legal is alloted $388K. What angers me about their lawsuit above all is that they are scapegoating the dual language program in order to get their jobs back. This really highlight deficiencies in their characters--not the kind of people I would want to teach my kids.
Dawn March 06, 2012 at 07:51 PM
"What angers me about their lawsuit above all is that they are scapegoating the dual language program in order to get their jobs back. This really highlight deficiencies in their characters--not the kind of people I would want to teach my kids." @Concerned Resident - I completely agree with you! Unfortunately, one of my kids was in one of their classes. It baffles my mind that this woman had the audacity to be a party to this lawsuit with her poor performance in the classroom. I wonder if personnel files can be used to defend the district in this case? Additionally, has anybody else noticed how parents and students have not been clamoring for these women to get their jobs back, or extolling what "exemplary" teachers they are/were? Also, I find it somewhat comical/hypocritical, that in their suit, they are attempting to show that seniority rules were broken, when it's b/c of those seniority rules they lost their jobs. If anything, I hope this case will aid in bringing about an end to tenure and seniority rules. There were some excellent teachers that had been let go prior to these three due to "last in/first to go," and there are some remaining teachers that should have retired/been let go years ago.
Maria T March 06, 2012 at 08:36 PM
There are other types of bilingual programs besides a dual language classroom.
Maria T March 06, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Bilingual programs do not need to be conducted in a dual language setting. There are other ways to accommodate second language learners.
Ruth March 06, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Franco, I agree with the fact that many immigrants back then came to work hard to this country and they made sure you learned the English language, but their mistake was not letting you learn their language so you could have become bilingual. United States is the only country in the world that refuses to learn other languages. This program gives an opportunity for the american children to learn other languages and cultures. We have to stop the pattern of arrogancy.
John Fried March 06, 2012 at 11:14 PM
www.newyorkliberty.com Keep Working America, Illegal Aliens Are Depending on You Tax day is nearly a month away and according to a reportfrom the Treasury Department, illegal aliens will be getting billions in tax refunds off the backs of taxpayers, legally through the tax code. IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS Many individuals who are not authorized to work in the United States, and thus not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) for employment, earn income in the United States. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides such individuals with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to facilitate their filing of tax returns. Although the law prohibits aliens residing without authorization in the United States from receiving most Federal public benefits, an increasing number of these individuals are filing tax returns claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), a refundable tax credit intended for working families. The payment of Federal funds through this tax benefit appears to provide an additional incentive for aliens to enter, reside, and work in the United States without authorization, which contradicts Federal law and policy to remove such incentives.
John Fried March 06, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Hey... These ILLEGAL ALIENS are in our schools.... Remember at some point America will have no more money and we will be a banana republic. I am certain.
Ruth March 06, 2012 at 11:26 PM
John Fried if you know so much about this country as a true american, you would know these "illegals" that you call were actually natives when your ancestors came here to this country and through them out. I'm talking specifically about Mexicans, which are considered illegal. As an american we have to learn to speak with the truth before we misinform how really things occurred and learn our history,. By the way I'm not Mexican, just in case you're wondering. But we Americans have to stop talking so ignorant.
Concerned Resident March 06, 2012 at 11:32 PM
@Maria What's your point? Whether it's a traditional bilingual class (only Spanish speakers) or a dual language class (Spanish and English speakers), the teacher must be certified in bilingual education. FYI- Dual language classes have benefits over traditional bilingual classes because the English speaking students can help the Spanish speakers learn English. TRaditional bilingual classes tend to have a homogeneous demographic--linguistically, culturally, and socioeconomically. DL classes are as diverse as regular classes. AND, DL classes have these benefits WHILE meeting the mandate for bilingual education.
2 Turn Tables March 06, 2012 at 11:37 PM
@ Ruth.. That is actually debatable. There was an article that thinks that Europeans were here before your beloved Mexicans. There are a number of schools of thought that shed light on this hypothesis, not that it matters anyway, but you may find this of some interest. You can google some reputable web sites that have similar information. You don't read much about it though. http://www.pbs.org/saf/1406/segments/1406-4.htm
Maria Tostiana March 07, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Young student have a difficult time mastering their primary language during the primary years. Learning concepts in a foreign language that they are not fluent in does not make sense. It's hard to focus on learning that language and mastering a topic at the same time. I do not think it is the best type of program no matter how smart your child is.
Ruth March 07, 2012 at 12:16 AM
It's not debatable, like you said Europeans being here before Mexicans a hypothesis, as per Mexicans being here before European is a fact. As per my beloved Mexicans, like I said I'm not, I'm an American born in Puerto Rico. Mexico was shorten by land when 10 states were taken away from them, California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Nevada to name a few. Have a nice day.
2 Turn Tables March 07, 2012 at 12:56 AM
It is debateable. You're one of these Atzlan people, wanting Mexico to take back California, Colorado, Arizona etc... by any means nexessary. A hypothesis is what makes it debateable. Self hatered is a sad thing.
Concerned Huntington Parent March 07, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Thank you Brooke. These teachers were excellent and cutting them was a disgrace for all the the students. When the DL classes get to the upper levels and have 10 in the class what happens then. Every other class has 24 and some. You can combine the upper level if it is so necessary the same way the special needs kids were taken out oof Southdown and sent to Flower Hill when there wasn't enough. Condensing this program in the very least is possible, leaving room for the qualified teachers to return to the students. I would like to see the actual ratio of students that start in the program and finish the program successfully.
carolh March 07, 2012 at 01:37 AM
What a joke u are entitled your opinion but are still wrong and dont get how yhe world works. Concerned resident you obviously work the only district with your knowledge u have posted. So thank you for your link to show what cert a dl teacher needs. Nowherre does it mention tenure heirarchy which is the item in question. So if you want to post more inside figures for how much your attorney is paid per hour please do.
Dawn March 07, 2012 at 02:09 AM
@carolh - ??? Which opinion? Wrong about what? Okay, I don't get how the world works. Enlighten me. With regard to what was aimed at Concerned Resident - ???
Concerned Resident March 07, 2012 at 04:06 AM
@carolh I don't work in or for the school district in any capacity. If you paid attention to what goes on in the district, you would already know that there is no in-house legal counsel, and that the district retains outside counsel. And if you had any knowledge about attorney fees, $225/hr + would not be a surprise. I'm just putting 2 + 2 together. My point in providing the link is to show that there are very specific requirements to qualify for a teacher certification in bilingual education. By "tenure hierarchy," I assume you mean seniority? For seniority rules to apply, all teachers being considered must be qualified for the position in question. The position in question is dual language teacher. The three teachers who are suing the district are not qualified for this position, since they do not have bilingual certification. Therefore, seniority rules cannot and do not apply in this case.
carolh March 07, 2012 at 01:35 PM
What a joke, i am referring to the legal world and the tenure world. U know little of both. Students and teachers clamoring? Like these kids understand any of this? Like parents can overide tenure seniority? Saying because you had issue with one of the teachers they have the nerve to file suit. Is that how yhe legal system works? Concerned resident. U stated that legal fee per hour as fact not an estimation so it was not an honest answer. You provide a link that shows dual language certs like that proves they have no case but all it says is what certs you need. It doesnt say anything about this lawsuit. If you look up tenure rules you would see teachers in the same tenure area in new york are based on seniority and seniority alone. Like it or not thats the law.
skip March 07, 2012 at 06:39 PM
You won the "lottery" 3 times, lucky you !
Concerned Resident March 07, 2012 at 07:22 PM
@Skip Don't know if you're referring to me. I don't have three children in the program--I have one. However, the way the program works is that sibliings of a child accepted into the DL program are automatically accepted into the program as well. That's how a family can have all three children in the DL program. Only one has to "win" the lottery.
Concerned Resident March 07, 2012 at 07:29 PM
@ carolh I'm speechless! Your ramblings are incoherent. What are you saying???? Before you post again, why don't you go back, read the 100+ posts and educate yourself. Then, maybe your next post will make some sense.
carolh March 08, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Like i said you can hate her all u like but it makes no difference in her being allowed to be in such suit. Concernrd i was erong on the dollar amount thing but everything else is straight from nysut and other tenure sites. U have not proved anywhere that what the district is doing is legal. The courts will decide this and so far from whay i have read the teachers are in the right. I dont think i rambled one bit so please show me where it states that 2 teachers in the same tenure tract should be based on anything but seniority. My only wish is if the teachers win the residents go to the district demanding heads for running things the way they do. Dont blame these teachers or any others for wanting their day in court.
Concerned Resident March 10, 2012 at 04:39 PM
@carolh I'll explain it once again. Bilingual classes are required by NYS education law under certain circumstances previously stated in the comments above. Those circumstances exist in HUFSD, therefore the school district is mandated by law to have bilingual classes. A teacher must be qualified to teach bilingual classes, and one of the qualifications required is certification in bilingual education. Another is proficiency in both languages, which is determined by a passiing grade on a NYS Dept of Education proficiency exam. These teachers have neither the required certification nor the proficiency in both langauges. Therefore, no matter how much seniority they have, it is against NYS education law for them to be teaching dual language classes. My take on the situation is that these teachers know they don't have a legitimate case. But they also know that the district will not go to court because litigation is very expensive. They are banking on the likelihood that the district will settle the suit by finding permanent teaching jobs for them. Although they will not bump the dual language teachers, the district will find them something. The lawsuit proves nothing except that these three teachers are pissed that they got the boot and want their security back.
JSC March 11, 2012 at 04:47 PM
The district does not have a separate seniority track for dual language teachers, they are in the same seniority track as the other elementary teachers! That was my point! Thus the teachers who lost their jobs and are suing, are correct. In addition, it wouldn't have to be the same grade level teacher who gets bumped! Seniority isn't based on grade level in the elementary grades!
JSC March 11, 2012 at 04:57 PM
@concerned resident... you need to take your explanation to it's end...you are correct in saying they aren't certified in DL and thus can't teach it...BUT they have seniority in the district and as such are protected and should have a classroom. The DL teachers don't have seniority over them and they are in the same seniority/tenure track! So while the district must have bilingual classes of some sort or other, the teachers let go must also have a classroom! The only way your argument works is if ALL the DL teachers had seniority over the three regular ed elementary classroom teachers (or any regular ed elementary classroom teacher). I'm sure both the three teachers and their lawyer have already made sure that they had seniority over others and shouldn't have been let go.
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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