Queens, N.Y. – An advocacy group and public school parents are suing the city and state education departments in an effort to reduce class sizes.
The lawsuit, filed last Thursday, alleges that the city Department of Education has not abided by a 2007 law that mandated smaller classes.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of advocacy group Class Size Matters, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “A lot of kids are in very overcrowded classrooms, especially in Queens.” Haimson and other plaintiffs filed a petition with state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in July, asking her to order the city to reduce class sizes in compliance with the 2007 Contract for Excellence Law, approved by the state Legislature after the Court of Appeals ruled “overcrowded classes in District schools contributed to inadequate student performance.” Under the law, K-3 classrooms should have no more than 23 students and high school core classes no more than 25 students by the end of the 2011-12 school year.
The average city class size in all grade levels has increased since 2007, and in the 2007-08 school year, the average class size in grades K-3 was 20.9 students and in 2014-15 was 24.6 students.
Elia sided with the city last December, leading the plaintiffs to file the April 12 lawsuit.
Three parents listed in the complaint are from Queens, Deborah Alexander, co-president of Community Education Council 30, JoAnn Schneider and Litza Stark. “The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during fifth grade math. He had just received a zero for participation,” Schneider said in a statement issued by Class Size Matters. “In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn has been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D- Jackson Heights), a former teacher and ex-chairman of the Council’s Education Committee, backs the lawsuit against the city and state. “It is unfortunate that it has come to the point where a lawsuit is needed to address the issue of reducing class size,” Dromm said. “Sadly, hundreds of thousands of our students are still crammed into classes of 30 or more and do not receive the attention they need to succeed. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately.”
A spokesman for the state Education Department declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Michael Aciman, a DOE spokesman, said, “We are committed to addressing overcrowding across this city, and have invested significant resources to increase seta capacity and reduce class size, including $6.5 billion in Capital Funding to create more than 46,600 seats in overcrowded areas. As a result of this work, average class size across the city has decreased from 26.4 students per class i the 2015-16 school year to 26.1 this year.”
The lawsuit asks the courts to order the DOE to “commence reducing class size averages” in accordance with the 2007 law by the 2018-19 school year, or submit a plan to shrink the sizes within a five-year timeline with annual targets.
Wendy Lecker, of the Education Law Center, is representing the plaintiffs. “The city cannot shirk its obligation to reduce class size under the C4E law and the State Constitution by taking no action for five years to let the statutory clock run out,” Lecker said in a statement.
Haimson backs the plan and says the city “needs to try to improve this process.” “It’s totally dysfunctional. Even when there’s money in the capital plan, they don’t build schools for many years.”
School District 24 in western and southwestern Queens is used as a case study in the Council’s plan. Part of the problem in SD 24, the members said, is that many schools were closed in the 1970s as enrollment dropped in that area.
As more people moved back into the neighborhoods, the city struggled to construct new schools.