Bridgeport · Hartford · Reform

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Vallas Case

“It ends here. We know there is nowhere else to go.”

Norman Pattis, the attorney representing Carmen Lopez and Deborah Williams-Reyes said this during Monday’s arguments to the state Supreme Court.

He’s right. Monday was the last stage in a long process, and now it is up to the Supreme Court to determine whether they will overturn the lower court’s decision to oust Paul Vallas as Superintendent of Bridgeport Schools.

Lopez and Williams-Reyes sued Vallas earlier this year, claiming he was unqualified for the position of superintendent. In June, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in favor of Lopez and Williams-Reyes on the basis that the 3-credit University of Connecticut course Vallas took was insufficient and did not fulfill the statutory requirements set out by the state legislature.

According to state law, a superintendent candidate seeking a wavier certification must complete a “school leadership program” offered by a Connecticut university and approved by the State Board of Education within an initial nine month probationary period. The specifics of what that means and who has jurisdiction over determining what constitutes a “leadership program” is what the Supreme Court is most concerned with. [Public Act No. 12-116, 5/14/2012]

The initial decision ruled that the course taken was not the course approved by the State Board of Education. However, the State Board of Education disagreed, and filed a brief stating the contrary.

Attorney Steven Ecker, representing the Board of Education on behalf of superintendent Vallas, argued that the case should have never made it to court because Lopez and Williams-Reyes did not exhaust all available administrative avenues before filing suit.

Ecker argued that the “plaintiffs weren’t particularly interested in Vallas mastering what he needed to master and was the appropriate superintendent by training or mastery for Bridgeport. They wanted him out. They were his opponents.”

Pattis repeatedly called the program a “farce” and argued that the Justices should uphold the lower court’s decision on the basis that state gave preferential treatment to Vallas.

The lower court’s decision however, was based on whether or not the course fulfilled the statutory requirements—and it seemed the Justices were skeptical of Pattis’ argument, questioning if the legislature’s intent was to allow flexibility when designing a program for a waiver candidate.

In an interview with News Channel 12, Ecker explained: “the State statute was designed to draw talent of exceptionally qualified superintendents from out of state into Connecticut. Paul Vallas has over 15 years of experience in other states and it would make sense for them to design a course specifically for candidates seeking a waiver.” [News Channel 12, 9/23/2013]

And now we wait. According to both attorneys, the Supreme Court could take up to six months to reach a decision. [Connecticut Mirror, 9/23/2013]

Full video of the proceedings provided by CTN:

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