Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,417
Some 90 paraprofessional employee of the school district filed an appeal to the Commissioner of Education challenging a decision of the board of education classifying them as “teacher aides” rather than “teaching assistants,” which appeal was characterized as a “class action.”
Addressing the school district’s object to the filing of the appeal as a “class action,” the Commissioner observed that “An appeal may only be maintained on behalf of a class where the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable and where all questions of fact and law are common to all members of the class, citing 8 NYCRR §275.2.” In so doing, said the Commissioner, the petitioner is required to  set out the number of individuals he or she seeks to represent and  must show that all questions of law and fact would be common to all members of the purported class.
The petitioners had filed the appeal “on behalf of themselves and approximately 90 paraprofessionals” designated by the school district as serving in teacher aide* positions, but who allegedly were performing the duties of a teaching assistant.**
The Commissioner, however, ruled that while the petitioners had identified each of these individuals in the exhibits to their petition, “they fail to demonstrate that all the potential class members have the same interests or claims.” Considering “the surveys submitted on behalf of these individuals,” the Commissioner said that the surveys indicated that the individuals had “differing job duties, and allege varying amounts of instructional duties.” The Commissioner also noted that the surveys also showed that not all of these individuals held a teaching assistant certificate.
The Commissioner decided that the petitioners: had not clearly demonstrated that all questions of law and fact would be common to all members of the class.Further, the Commissioner noted that the petitioners subsequently identified additional individuals as purported class members and requested, in the alternative, that they be added as petitioners, which request, he said, precluded a finding that the class members are too numerous.
The Commissioner denied the petitioners’ request for “class certification” but granted its motion that the individuals so subsequently identified be included in the appeal as “added petitioners” pursuant to 8 NYCRR §275.1.
After discussing a number of significant personnel issues that could affect the status of the petitioners in their respective positions and issues related to the collective bargaining agreement between the parties, the Commissioner remanded the matter to the school district to make its determination as to whether each of the petitioners was appropriately designated as a teacher aide or should be designated as a teaching assistant. The school district's determination was to be based on an assessment of the nature and extent of the duties performed by each petitioner, consistent with the criteria set out in the Commissioner’s decision.
In effect the district is to perform a “desk audit” of the duties of each individual to determine if he or she was performing the duties of a teacher aide or a teaching assistant.
For those individuals serving in a teacher aide position performing the duties of that title and those individuals serving in a teaching assistant position performing the duties of that title, and assuming that they are qualified to serve in that capacity, no further action would be required.
As to those individuals that the school district determines are serving in a teacher aide position but are performing the duties of a teaching assistant, assuming, but not deciding, that each such individual is qualified for appointment to that title, the Commissioner directed that “any petitioner ... who spends a substantial portion of time engaged in carrying out such duties, [is to] be appointed to a teaching assistant position and provided with all seniority, tenure and retirement rights.”
The decision is silent with respect to those individuals the school district determines are serving in a teaching assistant position but are actually performing the duties of a teacher aide. Presumably such persons are to be appointed to the title of teacher aide, subject to the approval of the civil service commission having jurisdiction.
* Teacher aide positions are in the classified service in the civil service of the State and the incumbents of such positions are subject to the State’s Civil Service Law and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder. Such positions are typically positions placed in the noncompetitive class of the classified service.
** Teaching assistant positions are among those certified by the Commissioner of Education to the New York State Civil Service Commission pursuant to Civil Service Law §35(g) as being in the teaching and supervisory staff of a school district and such positions are in the unclassified service of the civil service of the State.
The decisions is posted on the Internet at:http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume52/d16417.html