Outspoken Principal on Racial Justice Accuses City of Retaliation

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Teachers and a student from Park Slope Collegiate supported Principal Jill Bloomberg at a hearing in U.S. district court in Manhattan on Monday.

The principal of Park Slope Collegiate, a secondary school in Brooklyn, said she is being improperly investigated for engaging in communist activities and for recruiting students to advance her political causes. In response, the principal, Jill Bloomberg, filed a lawsuit against the city's Department of Education. 

The suit contends that the investigation is in retaliation for recent, negative comments about the Department of Education. 

Bloomberg told reporters on Monday that "my [political] activities have been so public and so transparent" that it is an "absurdity" to think she would be secretly trying to promote a political cause.

As principal of Park Slope Collegiate, Bloomberg is well-known for her years of speaking out on issues of racial justice and for specifically calling on the city's school leaders to address segregation.

But earlier this year, Bloomberg more pointedly accused the Department of Education of discrimination when it allocated fewer resources for sports teams to her mostly black and Latino students than it did to another school in the building that enrolled more white students, according to her legal complaint.

Soon after, the Office of Special Investigations, which is part of the Department of Education, began investigating claims made by an anonymous tip: that Bloomberg engaged in communist activities through the Progressive Labor Party and recruited students "to participate in organizational activities, including marches for her political organization," according to court documents filed by the city.

Those documents show Bloomberg is being investigated for several issues. Among them is an allegation that her husband filmed a documentary for an organization associated with the Progressive Labor Party, and that students and staff at the school "were included in the documentary without their authorization." The city also says that there may be a conflict of interest, because the documentary was screened at the school.

There are other allegations, including that a mandated course is not being taught and that "students who voice opinions different from those of plaintiff are not allowed to express them."

Bloomberg's lawyers have not yet responded to the city filing.

But in an initial hearing on the case on Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Bloomberg's attorneys called the investigation dangerous because of its vague allegations. Bloomberg, school staff and parents said the investigation is also creating a chilling effect at the school on speech related to social justice. The hearing was attended by nearly a hundred of Bloomberg's supporters.

The city argued that its Office of Special Investigations had a responsibility to examine the claims, which would violate academic policy if true. According to city regulations, educators must "maintain a posture of neutrality" when it comes to political organizations and candidates. There is nothing explicitly about political speech in the regulations.

Some New York City educators have said it is unclear to them where the line is between supporting the experiences of their students, many of whom who are black, immigrants and Muslims, and upholding city policy on politics, especially in the current, charged atmosphere.

For example, some teachers who have posted signs that say "Black Lives Matter" or "Immigrants Are Welcome" in their classrooms reported to WNYC that they were told to take them down.

Bloomberg is asking the court to stop the city's investigation while her lawsuit continues. A ruling is expected on Wednesday.