Parent Candidates Sue to Halt Council Elections

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1:09 p.m. | Updated A statement from the D.O.E. has been re-inserted in the updated article below.

Some city parents have taken legal action to stop this month’s election for parent councils because, they claim, the Department of Education did not give them an adequate chance to campaign before the voting period started on May 1.

It’s the second election in a row in which parents have complained about the process of electing parent leaders to the city’s Community Education Councils, the advisory bodies that help set school zone boundaries.

"I can't campaign," said Sam Pirozzolo, president of the CEC 31 on Staten Island, and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

There are seven parents who are running for CEC seats in Staten Island, and one from Brooklyn running for the citywide high school panel who are party to the suit, in addition to the New York City Parents Union. They are seeking the emails of the parent association officers who actually vote in the CEC elections.

To highlight the challenges, Pirozzolo said there are 58 schools on Staten Island and one month to campaign at all of them. Without access to the parents eligible to vote, he said this election was tougher, in some ways, than his unsuccessful race for state assembly last year.

The parents said they wanted the email addresses of these parent association officers, in order to make a direct appeal.

The Department of Education argued that releasing the email addresses of the voting parent officers “would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individuals in question.”

The petitioners, however, cite a 2007 opinion from the state’s Committee on Government, which found D.O.E. email addresses of public employees “clearly relate to the performance of their duties” and that there is nothing “personal” about them.

The D.O.E. said it also had arranged for candidate forums between April 8 and May 1. In a statement, department spokesman Marcus Liem said the D.O.E. is determined to see the CEC selection process proceed.

"We've seen a 43 percent increase in applicants, conducted extensive outreach in all five boroughs, and have worked with all districts and borough presidents council in hosting 40 candidate forums," Liem said.

But Pirozzolo recounted how he and 21 other candidates appeared at the one forum on Staten Island last month at the Michael J. Petrides School. It was on a weekday evening. He said there were no parents in the audience, just a few D.O.E. employees from the family engagement office.

The CEC elections are required under state law, but they have suffered in the past from low voter turnout. The last election two years ago was temporarily suspended after a lawsuit by parents who claimed the voting system was fraught with errors. It was an embarrassment to the Department of Education and Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to make improvements.

This year, the DOE did away with a first round of voting, in which all parents were able to vote although in a purely advisory capacity. Few parents took part in the advisory elections because the CEC had so little power.

Legal arguments will be heard by a judge on May 7. Voting for the parent councils runs through May 14.