Three former Hempstead school principals who filed a legal challenge in state Supreme Court regarding their 2013 firings have lost a battle for reinstatement and back pay, with the judge basing his ruling in part on their students' poor test scores.
Supreme Court Justice Norman Janowitz found the principals' job ratings, which included students' performance on exams, "provided a sufficient basis for respondents' decision to terminate" the three.
The district's action "was neither arbitrary nor capricious and therefore the petition to invalidate their terminations should be denied," the judge wrote.
Janowitz's decision, dated April 23, answered a December 2014 challenge filed by the principals. An earlier court challenge, filed by the group in 2013 and also related to their dismissal, is pending in appellate court.
Austin Graff, an attorney for Hempstead schools, said Janowitz's latest ruling supports the district's actions.
"It vindicates what the district did," he said.
Frederick Brewington, the principals' lawyer, said he and his clients are "reviewing the decision carefully and looking at our options."
Helisse Palmore, James Thomas and David Evans all started with the district in July 2010, hired under former superintendent Patricia Garcia.
They were fired in the summer of 2013 under current schools chief Susan Johnson. The school board terminated them again a year later as a matter of procedure.
Palmore was principal of Barack Obama Elementary School. Thomas led the Academy of Business & Law, one of three divisions carved out of Hempstead High School in 2010 to bolster student performance. Evans served as the head of its Academy of Music & Art.
The district has abandoned the academy system and returned to the traditional setting.
Challenge first filed in 2013
The former principals first filed a legal challenge in state Supreme Court in July 2013, saying their firings were unjust because the district had not administered their evaluations as required by state education law.
Janowitz agreed that those assessments had not taken place and sent the matter back to the district, Graff said. It was then, after the three were fired, that Hempstead commenced the evaluations.
Under current law, 40 percent of such ratings are based on student performance, with 20 percent stemming from kids' scores on state tests and the rest on assessments of the district's choice.
Schools can, if they choose, base that 40 percent entirely on state exams, as they did with Evans and Thomas. Palmore's evaluation was based on state and local exams.
The remaining 60 percent of an educator's evaluation is composed of other factors, including classroom observations.
Because the principals already had been fired, Hempstead could not retroactively observe them. Each was awarded 50 of 60 points in that area. The district said each lost 10 points for failing to submit goals and plans.
The principals disputed that claim, saying they were not required to submit such documents and they had never been requested by the district.
Seek old jobs, back payThe challenge pending in appellate court seeks reinstatement and back pay based on Janowitz's March 2014 finding that the terminations were null and void.
Soon after the judge's ruling in that action, the district did administer the evaluations, and Janowitz then found it had rectified the issue.
Thomas and Evans, the former high school principals, were evaluated in part on students' Regents exam scores for the 2012-13 school year, while Palmore was rated on her elementary kids' English language arts and mathematics exam results in that same year, plus other local measures.
All three former administrators did poorly on their evaluations.
The principals contend that the inclusion of students' scores is unjust because those marks were not known at the time of their firings, and therefore cannot be cited as a reason for their dismissals.
A sampling of state Education Department data on Hempstead High School students' test results shows, for example, that 34 percent scored a 65 or above on the Regents exam in integrated algebra in 2012-13, and 29 percent did so in geometry that year.
At Barack Obama Elementary, 21 percent were proficient on the third-grade English language arts exam in 2012, while 56 percent passed the fifth-grade English test.