The New York City Department of Education will not reschedule St. Patrick’s Day parent teacher meetings, even though an Irish American middle school teacher working in the public school system has filed a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission charging that his civil and religious rights have been violated because he won’t be able to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade and other celebrations on the day.
Frank J. Schorn, a teacher at the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Intermediate School in Brooklyn, filed the complaint last Friday via his attorney Brian O’Dwyer, senior partner at O’Dwyer and Bernstien in New York.
“This year the mayor instituted three new school holidays,” said O’Dwyer, who is also the chairman of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. “One observing the Lunar New Year and the others recognizing Muslim religious holidays.
“We are not asking that the mayor accommodate New York’s oldest immigrant community by declaring a school holiday. We are instead asking that the Department of Education make a minor change to its schedule so that the religious observance of thousands of teachers and parents who celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick be recognized and honored. In a city which celebrates its diversity and its accommodation for people of all religious and ethnic identities, it is particularly upsetting that the Department of Education has so blithely ignored the legitimate religious and ethnic expressions of Irish- American New Yorkers.”
However, the press secretary for the Department of Education, Devora Kaye, told the New York Daily News on Monday that the March 17 conference date will stand.
"We value and respect the cultures and traditions of all our students. While schools are responsible for holding one of four parent-teacher conferences on St. Patrick's Day, schools should work with families to provide other opportunities to have parent conferences for those unable to attend," she said.
The complaint says Schorn, an Irish American, became aware within the past 12 months that parent teacher meetings would be scheduled starting at 4:30 p.m. on March 17. Teachers are subject to disciplinary action for non-attendance.
Schorn’s complaint charges that the respondents – the City of New York, the Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina – have committed an “unlawful discriminatory practice…on the basis of [Schorn’s] national origin by scheduling parent teacher conferences on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The complaint seeks a temporary and permanent injunction against the scheduling of parent teacher conferences this March 17 and those in future years.
Members of the New York City Council’s Irish Caucus wrote to Farina on January 13 asking her to reschedule the March 17 conferences, and to refrain from having them on St. Patrick’s Days in future years. Farina, according to the complaint, did not respond to the letter.
An online petition has also been started calling on the public to support Schorn's complaint and asking the Department of Education to re-schedule parent teacher meetings.
"Schorn and other Irish-American teachers in the New York City school system are obligated by contract to participate in parent teacher conferences," the petition reads.
"As a result of this scheduling, Irish-American teachers have been denied the opportunity to participate in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade in particular. The parade has been found by the United States Courts to be not only a celebration of Irish heritage but a religious activity celebrating the feast day of the patron saint of the Archdiocese of New York, St. Patrick."
Thirty-four people have signed the petition as of time of writing, with signatories agreeing that, as a religious holiday, Irish Americans should be afforded the right to celebrate their heritage.
"This is an absolute travesty to Irish American people and heritage," wrote Gavin Enright from Albany, New York, on the petition site.
"There is never a legally binding law enacted forcing civil employees to attend an event on dates such as; The Puerto Rican day parade, Dominican Parade, various civil rights marches, or gay pride parades. It is another classless act of the Mayor towards the Irish American community."
The petition can be viewed here.