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.