Local Journalism Project News

Cornell First Amendment Clinic Files Suit Seeking Documents From NYC DOE’s Yeshiva School Inquiry

Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic filed a lawsuit in state court on April 27, 2021, on behalf of accountability news site The City, and its city hall reporter, Yoav Gonen, seeking records from the New York City Department of Education’s  (DOE) controversial Yeshiva school inquiry.

The records detail the school-specific findings of a five year investigation by the DOE into whether twenty-eight schools in Brooklyn are adhering to the state’s substantial equivalence requirements. Under the substantial equivalence law, nonpublic schools must provide an education at least as good as that provided to public school students in the same district.

The DOE has published a summary report of its findings but refuses to allow the public to review the school-specific assessments for 26 schools that do not meet the substantial equivalence threshold. The DOE simultaneously claims that the investigation is ongoing and that determined that curricula require improvement.

The City published a lengthy article on the suit, quoting its editor-in-chief, Jere Hester.  “The public has a right to know whether students are getting the education they deserve under the law. The city Department of Education’s excuse that the investigation is ongoing after nearly six years fails the smell test.”

The underlying investigation has been a source of significant controversy and media attention and has generated a separate investigation by the Department of Investigation (DOI) into whether the Mayor’s office engaged in “political horse-trading” that interfered with the progress of the inquiry. The DOI found that horse-trading had occurred, but did not interfere with the conclusion of the investigation.

“Yoav and The City are doing a fantastic set of accountability journalism to keep New Yorkers informed” says Ava Lubell, Local Journalism Attorney and part of the clinic’s Local Journalism Project. “If you’re not reading their coverage, you should be! The DOE is engaged in a set of linguistic gymnastics here,” added Lubell. “Merely terming something an investigation does make it one. The investigation is over and it’s time that the public learned of its findings. The City can use these records to tell so many different stories about the DOE, local politics, and more.”

The City is represented by Lubell and Heather Murray, managing attorney of the Clinic’s Local Journalism Project.

The First Amendment Clinic is engaged in a variety of cases and projects advancing the interests of free speech and freedom of the press. The Local Journalism Project addresses the increasing void in legal representation facing newsgatherers and media outlets that would otherwise be precluded from engaging in expensive litigation to defend their rights and ability to do their jobs. The Clinic’s work extends across disciplines, impacting journalists, researchers, human rights advocates, political advocates, and other individuals targeted based on their expression.