A state agency “lacks jurisdiction to investigate complaints” against the Ithaca City School District, a Syracuse Appeals Court ruled Tuesday, reversing an earlier decision which assessed damages against the school district on the basis of a discrimination lawsuit.
Associate Justice Eugene F. Pigott, writing for the Court of Appeals in Syracuse, said at issue “is whether a public school district is an ‘educational corporation or association’ as contemplated by Executive Law 296 (4). We conclude that it is not, and therefore, the New York State Division of Human Rights lacks jurisdiction to investigate complaints against public school districts under that provision.”
In 2005, Amelia Kearney sued the ICSD, claiming her daughter was harassed at DeWitt Middle School due to her race. After an administrative judge awarded Kearney $500,000, the New York Supreme Court ruled the state’s Division of Human Rights lacked authority. It is that ruling which was reinforced today.
Despite the ruling that the state had no authority to sue on behalf of the student, the appeals court’s ruling “is not to be interpreted as indifference to [the student's] plight, since the merits [of the discrimination claim] are not at issue.”
The court suggested the plaintiff can still file a complaint with the Commissioner of Education and pointed to the “Dignity for All Students Act,” made law in 2010. That law aims to provide all students “an environment free of any harassment that substantially interferes with their education…”