In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court ruled to overturn a lower court’s decision to oust Paul Vallas as Superintendent of Bridgeport Schools.
In July, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Vallas lacked the qualifications to hold the position of superintendent. Vallas’s qualifications were challenged by retired Bridgeport Judge Carmen Lopez and parent Deborah Reyes, who filed suit because they believed the “school leadership course” the state Board of Education approved for Vallas did not fulfill the statutory requirements.
According to Thursday’s state Supreme Court ruling, certification decisions should be made by the state agency the legislature granted the power to—in this case, the State Department of Education and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
Bellis “exceeded the bounds” of her jurisdiction because neither plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies. Instead of bringing their complaint to the Department of Education, Lopez and Reyes went directly to the courts, seeking a quo warranto action.
The court ruled that a quo warranto action cannot be used to “avoid the administrative process by mounting a collateral attack on a governmental agency’s licensing or certification decision.”
The court found they could not make any determination on the merits of the case because the proper avenues were never taken. In addition, the power to make certification determinations was granted by the legislature to the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education, not the courts.
While this decision has little bearing on Vallas’s future with the district, it does have a huge impact on Connecticut schools.
The court’s decision sets an important precedence. Connecticut school districts can now recruit the best and the brightest from across the country without fear their chosen candidate will be immediately embroiled in legal action brought by disgruntled activists.
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