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Judge Hears Arguments In Motion To Dismiss NY Teacher Tenure Lawsuits

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A judge on Staten Island heard arguments Wednesday on two lawsuits challenging New York's teacher tenure rules.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuits argue that job protections for teachers deprive some students of a sound, basic education.

Parents from around the state, meanwhile, rallied outside Richmond County Court.

Judge Hears Arguments In Motion To Dismiss NY Teacher Tenure Lawsuits

"We filed this lawsuit because we believe these laws violate our children's constitutional right to education guaranteed to them in our state's constitution," said Carla Williams, one of the plaintiffs.

"The reason for this case is trying to remove ineffective teachers who feel that sitting in a classroom is just a path to getting their pension," said lawyer Sam Pizzarolo.

The lawsuits were inspired by a California judge's ruling in June striking down that state's teacher tenure laws. Gov. Jerry Brown has appealed the ruling.

In New York, defendants, including New York state and New York City, are seeking dismissal of the lawsuits, arguing that the plaintiffs should lobby the state Legislature for changes.

The judge did not make a decision for dismissal Wednesday. Insiders told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez they don't expect a ruling in the next month.

"What this is is a soapbox elevated to a courthouse, and that's wrong," said Charles Moerdler, attorney for the United Federation of Teachers. "It's a waste of the taxpayers' money. It's an insult to the teachers. And more important than anything else, it says to every student in this state 'you don't have to listen to the teacher,' and that's wrong."

The plaintiffs contend that tenure rules keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and hold children back from reaching their potential.

"At some point, the teachers need to look in the mirror and say: 'You know what? There are some of us that are not effective. There are some of us that should find other professions. And it's time that we put the children's first,'" plaintiff Mona Davids told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell.

Mona Davids
Mona Davids has filed a lawsuit challenging New York's teacher tenure system. (credit: Peter Haskell/WCBS 880)

Davids said her grassroots group isn't asking to abolish tenure. They want to extend it to five years, instead of three, and eliminate the "last in, first out" layoff policy.

But teachers' unions say the tenure system protects teachers from being fired capriciously.

"What plaintiffs propose is that teachers risk summary dismissal for independent thought, for speaking out, for grading students in accordance with their merit rather than their parentage or sponsorship, and for a host of other perceived slights,'' the United Federation of Teachers, which is intervening in the case as a defendant, said in a court brief.

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the tenure system last June saying, "The tenure system, done right, is a valuable piece of the way we educate because what it's going to allow us to do is get quality teachers, get them to stay in our school system."

Despite supporting tenure, the mayor did concede that the city needs a tough teacher evaluation system because, "every profession has individuals who start down the road and just should not continue."

The lawsuit Davids v. New York was filed in Staten Island, while a second one, Wright v. New York, originally was filed in Albany by a group headed by former TV personality Campbell Brown.

The cases were consolidated in September and are being heard in a Staten Island courtroom Wednesday.

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