Attorney Michael Sussman Responds Back
Legendary civil rights attorney Michael Sussman received a response to the first letter he wrote to NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza from the DOE’s General Counsel regarding in-school COVID testing and protection of teacher and student DNA. The content of the DOE’s response was a link to the “supplemental information” the DOE published just hours after Sussman sent his first letter on NYTFC’s behalf. Below is Sussman’s second letter, which is a response to the “supplemental information” published by the NYCDOE. – mk
(sent on Friday, 10-23-2020)
To Henry Bluestone Smith (NYCDOE General Counsel Chief of Staff)
Thank you for responding to my letter and attempting to respond to my question regarding the potential uses of DNA specimens obtained from in-school COVID testing. The “supplemental information” page published by the DOE is a step in the right direction to help bring more transparency and trust into this unprecedented situation.
I would like to request that the NYCDOE send me the contracts that involve the three contractors performing in-school COVID testing. As the supplemental information recently published by the DOE is helpful, it raises even more questions that need further clarification. These are public documents and should be readily and easily provided to the public upon request. I do know of at least one law firm (not Sussman & Associates) that has put in a FOIL request for these documents.
Here are some of the concerns my clients still have:
(1) There is never any mention of DNA on the DOE’s supplemental information page, only “information” and “data”. While DNA sequences would fall under this category, the actual DNA substance itself, the specimen, is not information or data. Therefore I must assume the “Protected Information” that is for the sole purpose of COVID testing does not include the physical specimen itself. Am I correct in this assumption?
(2) The supplemental information page also mentions a “Specimen Collection Agreement” but gives little or no information directly from that agreement. Since DNA comes directly from the physical specimen provided on a swab, we believe it is impossible to know for sure what contractors are, and are not, allowed to do with student and teacher DNA without reading this specific agreement. Again, I would request that you send this public document as well.
(3) My clients have been at this for almost 2 months, and your response is the very first we’ve received. It is somewhat disheartening that in your response there is no mention of the one fundamental issue we have been seeking an answer to – rights pertaining to our own personal DNA specimens. This is precisely the reason why we are requesting to see all of the relevant contracts at this point in time. Had the DOE published something that said, “Student and teacher DNA obtained by swab samples for COVID testing will not be used by any party for any purposes at any time whatsoever in perpetuity. Swab samples and specimens collected will only be used for covid testing and nothing else.” Perhaps that would have erased the nearly 2 months of complete silence dozens of teachers and parents have had to deal with. However, that is not what was published. Instead, my clients received multiple statements that dance around – or near – our issue but never truly address it. If we are to regain the trust that has been lost over the past 2 months, the first step is complete disclosure of the contracts we request.
Thank you for your time.
Michael Sussman, Esq.