The Department of Education refused to renew a Universal P-K contract due to health and safety violations. The New York City Department of Education contracted with the Modern Organization & Human Development Center to provide Universal Pre-K services at 4718 Farragut Road, in Brooklyn.
During the contract term, the Center received numerous health code violations for lack of qualified trained staff, failure to maintain adequate supervision of students, exceeding classroom limits, and failure to submit proof of staff members’ immunizations. The Center had violations in 100 percent of its annual inspections, in contrast with the citywide average of 24 percent. All violations were corrected.
From February 2020 through June 2020, the Department of Education corresponded with Raymond Edwards, President and CEO of the Center, about extending the contract for another year. The Department of Education expressed that the contract extension was contingent on the Department’s satisfaction with the Center’s health and safety check, background check, the availability of funding, and any other required approvals. Edwards believed that the Department of Education’s request for his 2020-2021 school year budget, along with other correspondence with individuals from the Department of Education, confirmed the Center’s contract extension. However, on June 5, 2020, Edwards was notified the contract was not extended.
Edwards filed an article 78 petition claiming the Department of Education failed to provide an appeal or dispute resolution process to address contract concerns, Edwards also asserted that the Department’s correspondence constituted a binding promise to extend the terms of its existing contract, that the Center detrimentally relied upon the Department’s correspondence in expending money to prepare for that school year, and that the Department’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.
Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine ordered Edwards and the Department of Education to enter a dispute resolution process and ordered the Department to state its basis for not extending the contract. Dispute Resolution Officer David E. James found that the Department clearly stated the contract extension was conditional, and that the Department had the right to review prior health and safety code violations in making its decision to extend the contract. James noted that the Center had operated the program unsatisfactorily, referring to the program’s numerous health code violations.
On December 10, 2021, Judge Levine agreed with the dispute resolution report and findings. Judge Levine ruled that Education was authorized to consider past violations, with no time limitation, in determining whether to renew a Universal P-K contract. The court stated that although Education’s correspondence construed conflicting messages, Education never entered into a binding contract with the Center, and as a result, it was unreasonable for Edwards to have relied on this conditional agreement. Lastly, the court concluded that Education’s decision was not arbitrary and capricious since Education was acting within its discretion in choosing to not extend the contract.
Edwards v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., 160 N.Y.S.3d 782 (Sup. Ct. Kings Co. 2021).
By: Victoria Agosta (Victoria is a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2022.)