The Vergara lawsuit – in which nine children successfully challenged the constitutionality of key California teacher employment and dismissal provisions – has gone national. Amid much pomp, Students Matter, the nonprofit fundingVergara, announced support for a similar challenge, Davids v. New York.
Since then, peculiar things have occurred: Both Students Matter and the high-profile law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher representing the Davids plaintiffs pro bono have withdrawn; even the judge has recused himself. What happened? Welcome to the politicized world of education reform and the power brokers leading it, observers say.
According to lead plaintiff Mona Davids, a public-school parent leading New York City’s Parent Union, Students Matter and the Gibson firm were “bullied” by wealthy interests intent on backing a different lawsuit filed weeks after Davids. Since the filing, the New York attorney general has ruled to consolidate the cases, leaving only Davids. The other case, Wright v. New York, was filed by the recently established Partnership for Education Justice, headed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who continues to face criticism for declining to identify funding sources.
Davids has long battled to obtain better educational outcomes for children. She’s savvy and won’t back down – the type of fighter parents want when seeking empowerment. She has sided with teachers unions against perceived inequitable charter school co-locations; she’s also sided with reformers to make it easier to fire bad teachers but not totally dismiss tenure rights.
The media flocked to cover Brown’s lawsuit, drawn by her ability to raise money and promote her cause. But the decision to consolidate the lawsuits under Davids was a major blow to Brown’s team. That’s when the strong-arming began, I’m told. Davids and Sam Pirozzolo, another plaintiff, allege that Brown’s team began efforts to drain their support in order to reinstate her organization’s lawsuit.
Davids and Pirozzolo say their Gibson attorney told them of pressure he received from Brown’s team to withdraw – a move the plaintiffs resisted. Additionally, they say a member of Students Matter’s communications team informed them that they, too, were withdrawing after similar pressures.
While writing this column, I received an email from Brown, denying there was any pressuring others to drop support of the Davids suit. She told me that Gibson’s communications director, Pearl Piatt, would contact me. Within minutes, Piatt did, and reiterated the denial and informed me of Gibson’s withdrawal.
I found this odd. Why would Brown be communicating with the Davids attorney and the firm’s communications director? I discovered that I actually received Piatt’s email hours before the plaintiffs were notified by their attorney of his “official” withdrawal. Why would I learn of an action involving a client before the client? Does that violate attorney-client privilege?
I asked Students Matter founder Dave Welch about the allegations. He said he “didn’t want to come between friends.” But how can you fight for kids’ rights if you don’t fight bullying of their parents? Has the moral authority Students Matter earned with their historic Vergara lawsuit been tarnished?
The new court date is Sept. 11 – a day of national significance. On that day, an army of parents, now devoid of resources, will go to court in the next chapter of Vergara. They will be represented by an attorney who will argue for “support” of consolidation, even as resources are withheld from the Davids children and parents.
These Davids – in a modern-day Goliath battle – deserve our support.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.