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N.B. §22 of New York State's General Construction Law, in pertinent part, provides that “Whenever words of the masculine or feminine gender appear in any law, rule or regulation, unless the sense of the sentence indicates otherwise, they shall be deemed to refer to both male or female persons.” NYPPL typically follows this protocol.

NYPPL's most recent posting is set out below.

February 9, 2011

Using the word “should” in a policy memorandum’s means it is not mandatory

Using the word “should” in a policy memorandum’s means it is not mandatory
Port Wash. Teachers' Ass'n v. Board of Educ. of the Port Wash. Union Free Sch. Dist., No. 06-0708-CV 67, (USCA, 2d Cir.)

The superintendent of the Port Washington Union Free School District, Dr. Geoffrey N. Gordon, issued a policy memorandum advising members of the school district’s staff of the actions they should take in the event they learn that a student is pregnant.

The teachers' union sued, but a federal district court judge, Judge Thomas C. Platt, dismissed the petition. Judge Platt held that the action could not be maintained because there was (1) “a lack of standing,” (2) the claims were not ripe, and (3) the complaint failed to state a viable claim.

The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Platt’s ruling.

Dr. Gordon’s “Policy Memorandum” setting out the District’s policy stated that that a student's communications to one of them that a student is pregnant “is not a communication protected by a legal privilege, but rather may trigger legal reporting obligations.”

The policy indicated that a staff member who becomes aware of a student pregnancy should report it immediately to the school social worker. The policy also addressed the action that staff members should take in cases where statutory rape or incest was suspected. It also stated that the parents of the student should be advised of the pregnancy by school personnel if the student refused to do so.

The court said that the union offer little more than conclusory statements to support its assertion that social workers risk civil liability and their professional license by complying with the Policy Memorandum or that staff members were in jeopardy of disciplinary action if they did not comply with the policy.

In affirming the dismissal of the complaint by the district court judge, the Circuit Court said that “Because the plaintiffs have not established that civil liability or professional discipline is actual or imminent, the theoretical possibility that either might occur in the future does not amount to injury in fact.”

In addition, the court noted that the Policy “repeatedly uses the word ‘should’ in setting forth the notification procedures, thus easily supporting the understanding that adherence to them was not mandatory, by law or otherwise.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://nypublicpersonnellawarchives.blogspot.com/2007/02/notification-of-pregnancy-to-parents-of.html

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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.