The Department of Education is investigating a Park Slope middle and high school principal accused of communist organizing, according to a lawsuit filed by longtime Park Slope Collegiate Principal Jill Bloomberg and multiple news reports. The DOE's Office of Special Investigations contacted Bloomberg in March, prompting a surge of support from parents and teachers who have defended Bloomberg as an "outspoken advocate against racial discrimination."
According to the DOE, the investigation isn't related to Bloomberg's politics or activism. Instead, the department said, Bloomberg may have violated a policy against political organizing during school hours. The NY Times reports that the DOE sent a letter to Bloomberg's lawyers, stating that she and two other teachers are under investigation for allegedly recruiting students to the Progressive Labor Party, and inviting them to marches.
"On May 12, 2016 a confidential complainant lodged a complaint with SCI against plaintiff alleging that plaintiff was actively recruiting students to participate in a political party," according to the DOE. That complaint was closed, then reopened last December when the same complainant alleged Bloomberg's husband filmed a documentary for the Len Ragizin Foundation that featured students and staff "without their authorization." (The complainant also took issue with a bake sale raising money for a May Day march, according to court documents.)
Last Friday, Bloomberg sued. Her lawsuit [PDF], published by Chalkbeat, accuses the DOE of investigating her "in retaliation for her advocacy and organizing against unequal resources being allocated to the students" at Park Slope Collegiate, part of the larger John Jay campus. The DOE violated her right to free speech under the First Amendment, it alleges.
"What speech is prohibited?" Bloomberg told reporters outside court on Monday. "The speech I am most known for is anti-racism."
— New York City DSA 🌹 (@nycDSA) May 3, 2017
Bloomberg told the NY Times that she denies the recruitment allegations, as well as any affiliation with PLP (a few anonymous teachers pointed the paper to a 2011 post on the PLP website about a study group for students).
The NY Times also detailed Bloomberg's criticisms of DOE policies she says perpetuate school segregation. Park Slope Collegiate is majority black and Latino, and since 2010 has shared a building with predominantly-white Millennium Brooklyn High School. The DOE put off much needed building renovations until Millennium came in, Bloomberg said. In the years since, she's protested the installation of metal detectors and organized assemblies about police brutality. According to the NY Times, school investigators first approached her in March, soon after she criticized the DOE for offering a more robust sports program to Millennium than Park Slope Collegiate had.
Federal District Court Judge Paul Gardephe this week denied Bloomberg's request for an injunction to stop the DOE investigation until her lawsuit is resolved, saying that she failed to prove her rights had been violated.
"We will continue to fight, because this investigation is very dangerous," Maria Chickedantz, Bloomberg's lawyer, told Gothamist. "It's an investigation into ideological beliefs."
"Teachers at PSC have told us they are no longer comfortable talking about civil rights issues or wearing Black Lives Matters shirts, and considering the basis of the investigation into Jill Bloomberg, they are right to be afraid," she added.
The DOE deferred to the City Law Department for comment on Bloomberg's lawsuit. That department did not immediately comment.
[Update 5:00 p.m.]: City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci stated that, "Ms. Bloomberg’s recent concerns had nothing to do with the current investigation, which DOE was obligated to open after allegations of misconduct were brought to its attention."
"Her lawsuit has no merit because no evidence has been presented to support her claims," he added.
As for the complaints about sports offering at her school, "In partnership with Principal Bloomberg, the DOE has significantly expanded sports programs at the Park Slope Collegiate campus," Paolucci said.