I.S. 303 parents continue their battle

 
I.S. 303 parents continue their battle
 
by Heather J. Chin
 
Home Report and Sunset News
The Brooklyn Spectator
 
May 27, 2011
 
When Julia Daniely said, “This is just the beginning” and “This isn’t over,” she meant it.
 
Daniely, the PTA president at I.S. 303 — which serves students in Coney Island and Gravesend — and fellow parents are following through on plans to appeal the city’s decision to move a nearby charter school into the same building on West Avenue, off Ocean Parkway, that houses their children as well as those at Rachel Carson High School.
 
Around 100 parents have signed on as petitioners in the appeal to the State Education Commission, which was filed on Friday, May 27, by attorney Chris Owens* of the legal non-profit Advocates for Justice. 
 
“We’re going to win. We’re a public interest law firm committed to helping folks organizing to help their communities,” said Owens of the appeal, which comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed last week by the United Federation of Teachers against the Department of Education’s (DOE) February and March charter school placement decisions.
 
The decision that 1,200 students attending I.S. 303 and Rachel Carson should share space with around 400 students from Coney Island Preparatory Charter School was made at the May 5 meeting of the DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy, and so is not part of the union lawsuit.
 
“We’re not talking about precedents. Each case and school is different,” said Owens. “There may be similar themes and concerns, but our job is to put together the most powerful appeal.”
 
Since February, I.S. 303 parents, teachers, staff and students have fought against the merger, or what the DOE calls “co-location,” on the grounds that the school does not have extra space and that less room means a weakened curriculum.
 
“The DOE and Coney Island Prep believe we have space that we do not,” said Daniely. “We’re not debating that their children need space, but we can’t afford to have them come here and dismantle our self-containment classes that have proven to be effective for our children. We already share enough space with the high school, which becomes a safety issue.
 
“I hope the city is prepared for a battle. It’s just starting. This isn’t over,” she said.
 
For his part, Coney Island Prep Executive Director Jacob Mnookin acknowledges the battle, but describes it as a battle of collaboration to work out a deal that “would take the safety of the students into mind.”
 
The issue has also pitted local elected officials against one another, as Assemblymember William Colton has stated his support for the I.S. 303 community, while Councilmember Domenic Recchia put his support behind Coney Island Prep.
 
 
* Please note:  Chris Owens is not an attorney; he is the Executive Director of Advocates for Justice.
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NY parents seek $100 million from Bloomberg over schools

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be fined $100 million of his own money over his unpopular education chief’s short and controversial tenure, a group of parents said in legal papers on Wednesday.

They say Bloomberg chose to burnish his three-term mayor legacy over improving education when he nominated his friend and former Hearst Magazines chairman Cathie Black as schools chancellor, despite her lack of credentials and experience.

Black quit the post this month after just 95 days in office and was replaced by her deputy.

The papers by Advocates for Justice, a law-firm and advocacy group representing the 14 parents, are a preliminary notice of a lawsuit handed to the City’s Comptroller’s office. The group has yet to file a formal legal complaint in a New York court.

“The mayor’s ego, and his insistence on ‘selling’ the school system rather than building it from the ground up, led to this disaster,” said the group’s attorney Arthur Schwartz in a statement.

“The mayor took a lot from the City’s school children with this error, and he should be required to make repairs — in a sum that he is uniquely qualified to do,” Schwartz said.

The $100 million in damages should be paid personally by the billionaire mayor, the legal papers said, and be pooled in a fund to help train teachers.

“This suit so lacks merit it’s not even worth me commenting,” said Kate O’Brien-Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the City’s Law Department. A representative from the mayor’s office was not immediately available to comment.

The parents, who are seeking class-action status to represent all New York City public school parents, said Bloomberg had committed “misfeasance of office” by ramming Black’s appointment through the state bureaucracy.

After being appointed in November, Black clashed repeatedly with teachers and parents who saw her as a friend of Bloomberg with no experience that would suggest she had the credentials to succeed in one the most challenging jobs in U.S. education.

Black never seemed to recover after her comment in January that birth control “would really help us” solve the problem of overcrowded schools drew the ire of many parents of the city’s 1.1 million public school students.

Black’s resignation on April 7 came just days after an NY1-Marist poll found Bloomberg’s approval rating had dropped to 40 percent, with 21 percent saying they believe his performance in office is poor.

9/11 victims receive legal advice on compensation via Zadroga Act

Denise Villamia? 51? takes more than 10 medications daily for a range of illnesses she claims to have developed from volunteering at Ground Zero in the weeks following 9/11.

She was forced to quit her job as a public school social worker last October due to debilitating symptoms of gastro-intestinal reflux and sleep apnea. I was lling apart because of everything I had to deal with? she said? showing skin discoloration on her palms? a symptom of her auto-immune disorder.

Having received $25?000 from the first Victim Compensation fund? Villamia is holding out hope that she’ll be eligible for additional payments to lessen the burden of costly medical expenses.

Villamia was one of more than 250 first responders and Downtown residents injured on 9/11 that gathered at Queens College on March 20 to meet attorneys offering to represent them in reimbursement cases.

These men up here in their suits aren’t here to look pretty? they’re here to fight for you? said John Feal? founder and president of the FealGood Foundation? an advocacy group for 9/11 victims and the organizer of the forum.

This is the rest of our lives. This is it? said Feal? addressing an emotionally raw audience. It’s up to everyone here to advocate to keep the V.C.F. up and running.

The fund? valued at $2.8 billion? was re-opened under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act? which passed Congress last December and was signed by President Obama a few days later. It is meant to remunerate those who have suffered economic losses due to physical injuries incurred on or following 9/11.

Eight attorneys from New York-based law firms introduced themselves and offered advice to those seeking compensation for their respiratory and other illnesses that have pushed many of them into unemployment.

We’re very committed to repaying and honoring the service that you gave us? to our nation? and get every possible condition included in this so we can protect you and your milies? said Jim Lundy? representing Advocates for Justice.

You certainly have a tough decision here in determining who is going to represent you? chimed in Bill Groner? from Worby? Groner? Edelman & Napoli Bern? the firm that represented more than 9?500 first responders in 9/11-related law suits against New York City and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The lawyers stressed that? in defending the victims? they’ll have to prove the association of their illnesses or wounds with 9/11. Under the V.C.F.? the attorneys are entitled to receive a fee of up to 10 percent if their clients are awarded money.

Just because you have an injury? it doesn’t mean you’re going to get compensation in the V.C.F.? said Napoli. You have to show injury that was related to exposure with Ground Zero.

FealGood Foundation Attorney Sean Riordan noted that it’s still uncertain whether victims such as Villamia who were granted money in the first round of the V.C.F. are eligible for remuneration in the second round.

These and other sulegaladvicebstantive decisions concerning the funds’ implementation? including which illnesses warrant compensation? will be determined by the special master? who Feal said would be selected by May.

That person is the single most important individual in setting policy and guidelines? including issues such as how cancer is treated in terms of the Zadroga legislation? said personal injury lawyer John Dearie.

The special master? Groner chimed in? also has the authority to relax the standard of proof victims are expected to bring to the table. We want him to be as lax as he can be… people who were healthy before are no longer healthy and have to be taken very seriously? said Groner.

Dearie noted that illnesses commonly found within the general population can be difficult to attribute to the events of 9/11. Contrary to the original V.C.F.? which primarily awarded wrongful death cases? this latest round of V.C.F. funding? he said? will presumably cover a larger range of injuries that can be compensated.

Feal said he is determined to get cancers? in particular? added to the list of illnesses. He has attended some 50 funerals in the last few years? noticing that nearly all of the deaths were cancer-related.

[The policymakers] are on notice – mark my words? Feal said vehemently. We got the media? and we can rally in a heartbeat. I’m confident this is a fight we’re going to win.

Another ailment advocates are fighting to be included in the V.C.F. is post-traumatic stress disorder? which is only reimbursable under the current regulations when accompanied by a physical injury.

Attorney Noah Kushlefsky said he would conjure up medical evidence supporting the claim that P.T.S.D. is a type of physical impediment. By using a handful of studies to show physical injuries to the brain? we’ll argue that people are rendered disabled by P.T.S.D. and have a medical injury and are entitled to compensation? he said.

And? while it is not a requirement? the lawyers strongly recommended that claimants become enrolled in one of the World Trade Center Centers of Excellence health clinics? if they have not done so already.

There’s a very good flow of information between the health care side and the victim’s compensation side? said Kushlefsky? since the special master typically consults the clinics for advice and assistance before deciding on a case.

Enrollment in one of the clinics is also strongly advised because the physicians? Lundy and Groner noted? are more prone to identify causal relationships between patients’ illnesses and their exposures from 9/11.

At the Centers of Excellence? that is part of what those physicians are doing – taking a very detailed occupational and exposure history? said Lundy.

The attorneys pointed to the inherent flaw in placing funding and distribution limitations on the money. Only $800 million of the fund? which is now capped at $2.8 billion? will be released to victims in the first five years? and the remaining $2 billion will be released in 2016 (the sixth year). We don’t want the [U.S. Department of Justice] to say we have to preserve funds? said Riordan. We want them to pay you what your claim is worth? regardless of your overall cap.

Kushlefsky said the lawyers would collectively fight for the release of the payments in full in certain circumstances. Some people can’t wait five years? are very sick and need the money now? he said. Our goal is so it’s ir to everyone? and not to look at this as a budget but as initial funding.

The lawyers also vowed they would continue to work with the Department of Justice to expand the total amount allocated to the fund.

http://03732.com/free-legal-advice/55.html

NYC Parents Union Wins New Voting Period For Education Council Elections

City parents claimed a legal victory Friday in their fight to improve Education Council elections.

The New York City Parents Union said their opposition to the current elections process led to the implementation of a new voting period beginning later this month.

“The Department of Education today showed really good faith in redoing these elections, and we are really happy, and we rejoice and we are hopeful that every parent will take advantage of the second opportunity and vote so that their voices are heard in the New York City public school system,” said Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union.

Opponents said the council election process has been riddled with problems, including a shortage of candidates, inaccurate information about candidates, and candidates being ineligible for reelection.

Voting deadline for local school-council elections to be delayed for a week after parent outrage

NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged the process could have been handled better.

After vocal parent protests about insufficient candidate information, Education Department officials announced Monday they would delay the voting deadline for local school-council elections by a week.

The announcement came just a half an hour before a judge was set to decide whether to issue a temporary restraining order after a group of parents filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing a second round of voting until the problems were fixed.

The two sides will meet Tuesday to see if a compromise can be reached, parent lawyer Arthur Schwartz said.

“After reviewing concerns raised by parents and public officials,” said schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, “I have concluded that the process could and should have been handled better.”

Parents had reported being excluded unfairly from the ballots and complained about difficulties finding out who was running.

The councils replaced the school boards after Mayor Bloomberg took control of the school system.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2011/05/09/2011-05-09_voting_deadline_for_local_schoolcouncil_elections_to_be_delayed_for_a_week_after.html#ixzz1MSp6zNfB

'Parents' Group Intends To Sue Mayor Over Cathie Black ‘Damage’

Parents’ Group Intends To Sue Mayor Over Cathie Black ‘Damage’

by Mary Frost (mfrost@brooklyneagle.net), published online 04-27-2011

City Says Suit Lacks Merit

By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

NEW YORK — A group of parents represented by the public interest law firm Advocates for Justice filed a Notice of Claim Wednesday against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The group charges the mayor with committing “misfeasance of office” through the appointment of Cathie Black as schools chancellor, and by so doing “damaging the education of public school children in New York City.”

The Notice of Claim signifies the group’s intent to sue

About a dozen parents along with the newly formed New York City Parents Union are listed as claimants. They are demanding $100 million in compensatory damages from Mayor Bloomberg, “as the individual now held accountable under New York state’s education law for the performance of the public education system,” according to a release from the NYC Parents Union. The group would use the $100 million for teacher training.

The Notice of Claim was filed with the Office of New York City Comptroller John Liu. The claim cited the mayor’s “fiduciary obligation to act with the utmost of prudence and responsibility” in running the city’s school system.

Brooklyn Parent: ‘Children Have Suffered’

Brooklyn parent Mariama Sanoh, a claimant, said in a statement: “When outraged parents stated that Cathie Black was unqualified to be chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg accused us — the real stakeholders in our children’s education — of playing politics. The mayor has committed misfeasance and our children have suffered. There have to be consequences for these bad choices.”

Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, told the Brooklyn Eagle, the group’s claim “so lacks merit that it’s not even worth me commenting.”

In December, an Albany judge ruled that the state did not wrongfully grant Cathleen Black the waiver that allowed her to serve as chancellor, in spite of her lack of qualifications.

Other Brooklyn claimants include Chris Owens, district leader of the 52nd Assembly District and former community school board president; parent Muba Yarofulani, co-president of the Coalition for Public Education (CPE) and president of the District 18 Presidents Council; and Brooklyn teacher Julie Cavanagh.

Arthur Z. Schwartz, the lawyer for the NYC Parents Union, will be arguing another lawsuit in Albany today on behalf of the Deny Waiver Coalition, a parent group with many of the same members as the Parents Union. The suit argues that the minimum education and work qualifications for schools chancellor cannot be ignored in the future. The case will be heard in the Appellate Division, Third Department.

http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=27&id=43028

2 Brooklyn Grocers Face Class-Action Suits

A Fine Fare and a Key Food in Brooklyn are being sued over charges that they violated minimum wage and overtime laws; attorney sees cases as first of many.

By Daniel Massey, Crain’s NY Business.com, March 3, 2011

The suits, filed against a Fine Fare and a Key Food, are part of an ongoing campaign by New York Communities for Change — the successor to Acorn — and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 338 to improve conditions for low-wage supermarket workers in the city.

Workers at two Brooklyn supermarkets filed class-action lawsuits Thursday, alleging the owners of the shops violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

The suits, filed against a Fine Fare and a Key Food, are part of an ongoing campaign by New York Communities for Change—the successor to Acorn— and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Local 338 to improve conditions for low-wage supermarket workers in the city.

The suit against Fine Fare alleges stock workers earned between $300 and $400 for weeks that ranged from 65 to 78 hours, starting in 2006. It claims they weren’t paid the time and a half required by law for hours in excess of 40, nor were they given bonus pay for days longer than 10 hours. The Key Food complaint makes similar allegations, charging that stock workers earned between $300 and $450 for weeks between 72 and 84 hours, without overtime pay, from 2007 through 2010.

“This is pretty common in a lot of stores in New York City and I see these as the first of many cases we’re going to bring,” said Arthur Schwartz, the workers’ attorney.

Fine Fare owner Mustafa Aba Saab said he has not yet seen the suit. There was no answer at the Key Food store and there was no immediate response to an e-mail sent to Key Food corporate headquarters.

As part of the campaign, Mr. Schwartz sent a letter to the owner of a third shop — Golden Farm in Flatbush — threatening a suit by next week if he did not negotiate over minimum wage and overtime violations against a dozen employees. Workers there are trying to organize a union and Local 338 filed for an election Tuesday.

Sonny Kim, the owner of Golden Farm, said his lawyer has been working for four months to bring the situation to a close, negotiating with the state Department of Labor, which is demanding back wages and penalty payments. “We’re trying to settle,” he said.

Organizers also announced Thursday that a union election would be held Monday at a fourth supermarket — Master Food in Flatbush, where workers say they are fighting for respect on the job.

“I’ve worked there from August 2004 and I have never had a vacation; I’ve gotten sick and had to go to work sick; I’ve worked on holidays and haven’t gotten paid extra; and I never got overtime,” said Jesus Najera, a 31-year-old immigrant from Honduras who plans to vote in favor of the union. “We think that with the union there will be changes for the better at the store.”

Since the campaign launched in December, organizers from Local 338 and New York Communities for Change have met with more than 300 workers. The drive combines the organizing of workers to demand back pay with more traditional efforts seeking union representation. New York Communities for Change has used its roots on the ground in Brooklyn to help activate workers who are often difficult to organize because many are undocumented. Late last year, the group organized a bus caravan that stopped at various supermarkets where workers claimed their rights were being violated.

“By combining the strength of the union and labor laws with a community base, the employer has to realize he can’t just treat these guys poorly or it’s going to blow up in his own backyard,” said Kevin Lynch, director of organizing at Local 338. The community group Make the Road New York employed a similar strategy in a campaign with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize retail workers on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick in 2005.

The supermarket campaign comes as a new state law pushed by Make the Road is set to go into effect next month, increasing penalties on employers who violate wage and hour laws and don’t properly keep records.

Workers will be able to recoup the money they are owed, plus a 100% penalty. The current law allows for just 25% in damages, meaning even if caught, employers typically end up paying little more than they

stole. The act also beefs up protections for workers who are retaliated against for exerting their rights, and gives the state’s commissioner of labor new powers to collect damages from employers who violate the law.

Wage theft costs more than 317,000 low-wage workers in the city $18.4 million per week, according to a 2010 study by the National Employment Law Project. The workers lose almost 15% of their earnings due to labor violations—$58 each per week, or $3,016 every year, according to the group. Minimum wage violations are particularly prevalent in grocery stores, the study showed.

Crains New York Business