For more than two years, the internally-lit sign at A.W. Becker has remained dark. In an effort to enhance communication with district families and the community, the district swapped a manually-lettered sign with the electronic sign in 2015.
Soon after it was first turned on, Bethlehem Town officials informed the district that the sign should be turned off, claiming that it is in violation of town ordinances because of its potential illumination and moving text. The Town also contended that it was improperly located in a state right of way and that the district failed to obtain a building permit prior to erecting the sign.
Although public schools have not traditionally answered to local ordinance, the District, in a show of good faith, applied for a variance with the Town. After being denied the variance, the district appealed to the both the New York Supreme and Appellate Courts, and both appeals were denied. The district will now bring an appeal to the State Court of Appeals.
Essential Questions with Superintendent Bailey
Why did the district put up the sign?
Our foremost focus is education and the well-being of our students, which includes effective communication with the families and the community. Having the ability to utilize the sign at A.W. Becker would allow us to communicate with our stakeholders more readily and provide an essential communication outlet both during emergency situations and on a daily basis.
The electronic sign was placed in the same location as the pre-existing manually-lettered sign and was one of three electronic signs installed in the district as a part of annual capital improvement funds provided through the LaFarge Host Community Benefit Fund Agreement.
Why is the district appealing the Town’s decision?
The outcome of this court case and appeals has the potential to change current practices for all public school districts in New York State. Currently, while schools may collaborate with local municipalities on a project, they are ordinarily not required to get permission from that municipality to construct in or around school buildings. These types of projects would fall under the purview of the New York State Education Department (NYSED), not the local municipality.
Aidable construction projects are all closely examined and approved by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). Smaller projects such as signs, playgrounds and fences, which are often not aidable, may also need to meet certain requirements set forth by NYSED. It is not normal practice for a municipality to have direct oversight over such projects.
Why is this appeal so important for RCS and schools across New York?
This ruling could affect public schools and other public entities across the state. If the Court of Appeals rules in favor of the Town of Bethlehem, it would establish case law that could impact the operations of every public organization, such as fire departments, police departments, public libraries and public school districts. Many professional organizations from throughout New York state are eagerly watching for the outcome of this case