As Omicron Hits NYC Schools, Low-Income Families Sue to Compel City, State Departments of Education to Provide Students with Working Devices, Internet, and Instruction for Periods of Remote Learning
Five families of color allege New York City and State Departments of Education denied their children an education by failing to provide them with working devices, internet, and instruction over the last three academic years
The families seek compensatory services for their children and an order requiring Defendants to provide all families with working remote learning tools and instruction moving forward so that all NYC students have equal access to education during remote learning periods
New York, NY – Today five low-income parents of color announce a new lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court against the New York City and New York State Departments of Education. The lawsuit demands that the City and State provide access to internet service and working devices to students who cannot afford them so that all NYC students have access to education during school closures. The parents say Defendants violated their children's right to a sound, basic education under the New York State Constitution by failing to provide adequate devices, internet access, and technical support in multiple languages during the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022 school years, and violated the NYC Human Rights Law by willfully ignoring the "digital divide" impacting families of color. As a result, students and their families suffered educational setbacks and incurred expenses they could not afford. The parents, represented by Legal Services NYC, Arnold & Porter, and Education Law Center, seek compensatory educational services and an order requiring the Defendants to provide access to remote learning infrastructure for all NYC students moving forward.
Read the full complaint here.
"The school put my daughter through hell," said D.H., the mother of an eighth grader and plaintiff in the case. "My daughter could not connect to classes with the devices they gave us. Despite repeated calls for technical support, the school told us sorry there was nothing they could do. My daughter fell further and further behind in her classes and eventually was forced to repeat the 7th grade. She was devastated and became severely depressed. As a mother I felt helpless. I don't want what happened to my daughter to happen to anyone else. Three years into this pandemic, there are no more excuses. NYC schools can and must make sure families like ours have the tools we need to learn remotely."
"The inability to access education was extremely stressful and difficult for me and my children and we are still struggling," said Plaintiff S.M., a mother of three. "I hope this lawsuit makes things better for my children and all the other students in New York City."
The New York State Constitution guarantees every child access to a sound, basic education and the "facilities and instrumentalities of learning" necessary for that education, which, during Covid-19, includes functioning devices, free and reliable internet access, and training and support for parents and students to access remote platforms. But by the City's own admission, as of March 2021, 16,000 requests for devices remained pending from 2020, and thousands more remain pending from 2021.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Defendants, despite having data showing that schools with more than 25% Black or Hispanic student bodies are four times more likely to report low remote-learning engagement, continue to violate the NYC Human Rights Law and the New York State Constitution by failing to ensure that all families in New York City have access to education, remote learning platforms, and digital resources.
To address these ongoing violations, the lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the Defendants to:
- develop and implement a plan to ensure that all New York City public school students who need it have access to working devices and internet service at no cost to the students or their families;
- provide instructions to all parents of New York City public school students concerning the remote-learning system and platforms in the parents' preferred language;
- develop and implement a claims process to provide payment to eligible families for internet expenses incurred to access remote learning since March 2020;
- assess the need for compensatory education, including Academic Intervention Services, among their student population, and develop, implement and fund an expedited process and plan for remedying the lost educational opportunity suffered by all New York City public school students; and
- award damages to compensate students' families for economic harm caused by the City's violations of the New York City Human Rights Law.
"For far too long New York City's most vulnerable students have lost out on their right to a sound and basic education," said Tara Foster, a senior attorney at Legal Services NYC. "The pandemic and the approach to remote learning has had far-reaching and devastating impacts on low-income students and families of color and has laid bare the deep gap in educational opportunity afforded to them as compared to their more privileged counterparts. Now, as Omicron continues to hit NYC schools, it's time for New York City to once and for all make sure that all students have the tools they need to access an education and make efforts to assist students left behind."
"All students in New York City are entitled to a sound, basic education under the New York State Constitution, not just those students whose parents can afford to pay for working devices and reliable internet service," said Arnold & Porter Pro Bono Counsel Lucy McMillan. "In a world of continuing classroom closures and quarantine requirements, remote learning has been, and continues to be, a large component of the education provided to children. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that remote learning upholds, rather than ignores, the rights of students in New York City."
"The State of New York and New York City systemically failed to provide all children with the resources necessary to participate in virtual classrooms," said Greg Little, Education Law Center Chief Trial Counsel. "That failure essentially resulted in children being locked out of their schools, and the State and City refused to provide them the keys. These children will suffer irreparable harm in the future absent prompt action to remedy this appalling failure."
Issara Baumann, Senior Media Relations Manager
About Legal Services NYC
Legal Services NYC fights poverty and seeks racial, social, and economic justice for low-income New Yorkers. For over 50 years, LSNYC has challenged systemic injustices that trap people in poverty and helped clients meet basic needs for housing, income and economic security, family and immigration stability, education, and health care Our staff of more than 600 people serve more than 112,000 New Yorkers annually and we continue to provide top-notch free legal help during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure New Yorkers and their families have access to the services, resources, and protections they need to survive.
About Arnold & Porter
With nearly 1,000 lawyers practicing in 13 offices around the globe, Arnold & Porter serves clients across 40 distinct practice areas. The firm offers 100 years of renowned regulatory expertise, sophisticated litigation and transactional practices, and leading multidisciplinary offerings in the life sciences and financial services industries.
About Education Law Center
Founded in 1973, Education Law Center is the nation's legal defense fund for public education rights. ELC is widely recognized for successfully advancing education equity, opportunity and justice in New Jersey, New York, and states across the country. ELC pursues its advocacy mission through litigation, public engagement, policy development, research, and communications.