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Buffalo Teachers Push for Carl Paladino's Removal From City's School Board

UPDATED

Five Buffalo teachers have filed an official petition with the New York education department seeking to remove Carl Paladino from the city's school board over derogatory comments he made about President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Although a number of groups have blasted Paladino's remarks—widely condemned as racist—which were published in a newspaper last month, the teachers were the first to take the formal step of asking for his ouster. In an article published in a Buffalo alternative weekly, Paladino said that his wishes for 2017 included President Obama dying from mad cow disease and Mrs. Obama returning "to being a male." 

The teachers' petition, filed Wednesday, argues that Paladino's "racially inflammatory" statements, as well as his "disclosure of confidential information" from the school board's executive session, "constitute intentional and willful violation and neglect of duty of the proper execution of his responsibilities as a school board member such as to require his removal." 

The disclosures attributed to Paladino and cited in the petition relate to aspects of the district's negotiations with the teachers' union on a new contract.   

The teachers also argue that Paladino's comments about the Obamas violate the state's Dignity for All Students Act, passed in 2010, which seeks to ensure school environments free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying. 

Paladino's "intentional grotesque stereotyping of African Americans as sexual deviants, criminals, terrorists, or less than human to be sent back to Africa to live with apes...negatively impacts upon the ability of the very mission of Board of Education of the Buffalo City School District to educate the students of the Buffalo City School District, including African Americans, minorities, and non-minorities," they wrote in the petition.

The comments, the petition argues, violate Paladino's duty to serve as a role model for students in the school community. The petition also names the school district and the full board of education as respondents. 

Under New York state law, the education commissioner can remove a school board member, after a hearing, for willful misconduct or neglect of duty. But to proceed, the commissioner must receive an official application within 30 days of the violation that's being alleged. New York state law also allows local school boards to remove a member for "official misconduct."  

Four of the teachers who filed the petition are also parents or grandparents of current or former students in the district.

Paladino told Education Week on Friday that his comments, which were "unfortunate," were protected by the First Amendment and that he had no plans to resign. He pledged to fight any attempts to have him removed.  After learning of the teachers' formal petition, he called it a ploy by the union to "own every member of the Buffalo Board of Education."

"They are barking up the wrong tree because under no condition [will I] resign, because I have a responsibility for the 34,000 kids who were maligned by the teachers' [union] leadership in the past," he said.

Since his comments about the Obamas were published, Paladino has apologized to the "minority" community and has said that his efforts on the board have been to root out corruption and better serve the 34,000 students in the Buffalo school system. But Paladino has also dug in his heels, accusing the school board members who voted to oust him in a 6-2 vote in December of playing the race card.

(UPDATE 01/19: The Buffalo school board passed a second resolution seeking Paladino's ouster at its Jan. 18 meeting. The most recent resolution to petition state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to remove Paladino from his post seeks to have him removed on the grounds that he allegedly publicly shared information from the board's executive session, according to The Buffalo News. The resolution was adopted by a 6-3 vote, with Paladino, Larry Quinn, and Patricia Pierce voting against it. Pierce and Quinn also opposed the December resolution giving Paladino 24 hours to resign over the comments he made about the Obamas. The Buffalo News reports that a board attorney told the school board that the December resolution was illegal as New York state education law does not give board members the authority to ask another member to resign.

A spokesman for the NYSUT said Paladino was served on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the New York department of education said the department had not yet received the petition from the teachers, which would be the first to formally seek Paladino's removal. 

"Once all necessary documents in the established removal process are filed, we will review the record as quickly as possible while allowing for a thorough and complete consideration of the facts and relevant law," Emily DeSantis, a DOE spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

Karen Magee, the NYSUT president, whose group helped the teachers with the filing, said Paladino is a poor role model who should be removed. 

"Our public schools must be sanctuaries where students and teachers are free from harassment, bullying, and discrimination in all forms," she said in a statement."

"Through his racist ranting, Carl Paladino has not only undermined the state's anti-bullying law and district policies against harassment and discrimination, he has also violated his oath to comport himself responsibly as a board member. He is a poor role model who has proven himself unfit; is a disgrace to all the dedicated members serving on school boards throughout the state; and he must be removed."

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