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Lawsuit Filed Challenging Cathie Black's Waiver

By DNAinfo Staff on December 8, 2010 6:21pm

The lawsuit challenges the waiver that Black needed because she lacked a background in education.
The lawsuit challenges the waiver that Black needed because she lacked a background in education.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — A group of angry parents has filed a lawsuit challenging the state for granting Cathie Black a waiver to become the city’s next schools chancellor.

"We argue that Commissioner [David] Steiner misinterpreted the law," said Norman Siegel, one of the attorneys who filed the suit in New York State Court in Albany Wednesday on behalf of thirteen parents, including Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and a Brooklyn teacher.

In the 14-page petition, the group challenges Steiner's granting of the waiver as "an abuse of authority, an abuse of discretion and as arbitrary and capricious."

The lawsuit comes after numerous threats and weeks of protests in opposition to Steiner's decision to grant Black the waiver, which she needed because she had no education experience.

City Councilman Charles Barron led a rally against Black last week - one of many since she received the waiver.
City Councilman Charles Barron led a rally against Black last week - one of many since she received the waiver.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

After some hesitation, Steiner struck a deal with Mayor Michael Bloomberg that will allow Black to serve alongside a Chief Academic Officer with extensive education credentials.

State Department of Education spokesman Jonathan Burman declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The City’s Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the suit, Black's waiver allegedly relies on the credentials of Shael Polakow-Suransky — the Chief Academic Officer — instead of her own.

It also alleges that Steiner acted contrary to the law by ignoring the fact that Black does not have a Master's degree. Siegel said the degree is an unwaiverable qualification for the job.

District 3 Community Education Council President and Upper West Side father Noah Gotbaum, one of the parents involved in the suit, said that Black simply is not up for the job.

"We believe very strongly that the leader of our schools needs to have at least a base qualification," said Gotbaum, who has two children enrolled in city schools.

The Attorney General, who represents Steiner, will have until Dec. 20 to reply to the suit, Siegel said. A hearing is set in Albany for Dec. 23.

Siegel said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the group would win.

"I know people say it's a done deal, but courts do have the power to nullify the actions of public officials," he said.

Gotbaum agreed.

"We would not have submitted this were we not confident that we had a solid case," he said. "This is a very, very reasonable petition."

The group will hold a press conference Thursday at 11 a.m. at 250 Broadway.