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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Erin Einhorn Writes About The Re-Assigned Teachers

Picture of the Re-assignment center at 333 7th Avenue (right)
and gets her facts all wrong. She just doesn't do her research. Teachers remain for long periods of time in re-assignment centers because they must have, due to the UFT, due process before they are terminated. If it weren't for Randi Weingarten and the UFT contract, teachers could be fired in seconds by any employer, for almost any reason (too tall, too short, hair too blonde or too brown, foreign accent, reminds Principal of his/her former mother-in-law, too old, too verbal, etc). Some deserve to be out of the classroom, but there are a majority that do not.

In NY Jurisprudence 2d, Vol. 52 & 53 (Employment Relations) you can read the following (p. 434):

"There is no cause of action recognized in New York for abusive or wrongful discharge of an employee and this rule cannot be circumvented by casting the cause of action in terms of tortious interference with the employment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort, libel, defamation, or fraud."

So, teachers who didnt fit the bill as far as their principals are concerned would be without a salary and terminated regularly for "improbable cause" or no good reason if the UFT were not there to keep the victims on salary until the true facts are discovered about what hppened - or didnt happen - in the school. If the teacher is proven innocent, he/she gets sent back to work.

More arbitrators and Attorneys and advocates would be a good thing, as well as transcribers who can give a turn around time of a week or two for transcripts to be ready after a 3020-a hearing. Many - not all, however - are wonderful teachers and good people who dont deserve to be sitting around away from the jobs they were trained to do.

Erin says that the NYC BOE claims: "they only exile employees if evidence suggests they're a danger to kids". Baloney. Why are good secretaries sitting in the re-assignment centers? What danger are these highly trained people? Re-assigned so that their job can be given to politico whose neighbor just moved into town, perhaps? What about the excellent gym teacher given more than 100 kids to teach, then is charged with incompetence? Or, what about the many people who happen to find out that a child needs the services of a para professional, and the Principal doesn't want the child in the school, so doesn't want the teachers to say anything...and the teachers do (and are removed for doing it). The tangled mess is getting sorted out, but in our opinion, the story below is just irresponsible because it misses the point: there needs to be more oversight in schools so that Principals and other administrators do not use personal vindictiveness to remove a trained professional.

Teachers in trouble spending years in 'rubber room' limbo that costs $65M

Fellow rubber room denizens Jaime Castro and Jennifer Saunders

A rare look inside the city's network of "Rubber Rooms" reveals an unprecedented backlog in the teacher discipline system that has bloated the population to twice the size of four years ago - and is costing taxpayers at least $65 million a year.

The roughly 700 workers accused of various wrongdoings collect their full salaries for spending seven hours a day in low-ceilinged, over-heated rooms, playing cards, doing puzzles, reading magazines and sleeping.

"Some people get divorced," said Jennifer Saunders, who did a three-year stint in a Manhattan rubber room. "They're on medication and they never were before. They're crushed. They're shattered. I've seen people's whole lives destroyed."

Most of the school employees banished to what are officially called Temporary Reassignment Centers are awaiting disciplinary hearings on offenses ranging from excessive lateness to sex abuse.

"The rubber room is dangerous," said Saunders, who was in for misconduct charges. "I don't know these people, what their charges are. They could have chopped up their neighbor last night."

Exclusive data obtained by the Daily News show that nine people have lingered in a rubber room for more than four years. Twenty-six have idled there for more than three years.

Eighty-six have been collecting public salaries for more than two years while reading books, watching movies on portable DVD players or arguing with each other, according to a snapshot of employees assigned to the 14 centers across the city on one day - Jan. 29.

The data identify the longest-serving person stuck in a rubber room as a teacher who was accused of sexually abusing a child and yanked from his classroom 5-1/2 years ago.

Because the allegations were never proved, and because he refuses to quit his job, he collects his full annual salary - up to $95,000.

He has plenty of company. On average, 700 people - out of a total of 140,000 school employees - are crammed into the rubber rooms, which have doubled their capacity since 2004.

"Some people have difficulty handling it," said a teacher assigned to a South Bronx rubber room.

She said she some of her colleagues play chess. One teacher started an Italian class, and there's also a book group.

At a Brooklyn center, a teacher said much of the day is spent arguing over whether or not to open a window.

The system's estimated annual cost of $65 million is based on teacher compensation, which averages around $70,000 a year with maximums for senior teachers that will hit $100,000 later this month.

That price doesn't include hiring substitutes for abandoned classrooms, renting space to house the accused and spending half a million dollars on security guards to keep peace in a place where anxieties are high and tempers can flare.

"They're demoralizing, horrible places," said teachers union President Randi Weingarten.

She blames the surge in rubber roomers on city policy giving principals more freedom and says some have taken advantage of diminished oversight to manufacture allegations against teachers they don't like.

"I understand that when we deal with kids, everybody wants a 'better-safe-than-sorry' approach, but these rubber rooms are so awful that those investigations have to happen really quickly," Weingarten said.

City officials dispute Weingarten's claim that allegations aren't scrutinized. They say they only exile employees if evidence suggests they're a danger to kids.

The top reason educators had been removed from a school in the one-day snapshot obtained by The News was they had been arrested for alleged crimes and were awaiting prosecution.

The accused sexual predator who is the longest-serving rubber roomer is one of seven who have been permanently assigned to a room because although they haven't been convicted, school officials say their alleged offenses were too awful to risk letting them near kids.

School officials attribute the bulging reassignment centers to unwieldy laws and union agreements that make it difficult to fire incompetent or dangerous educators.

"I'm not sitting here telling you that I think this is an ideal system," said Michael Best, the Education Department's top lawyer. "But given the realities of the cumbersome state laws and [union] contract ... we're in a position where we need to balance our obligation to safeguard children with our legal obligation for fairness to teachers."

The pace of justice is slow.

A recent Education Department analysis found that the average accused educator waits four months as investigators interview witnesses and decide whether to bring formal charges, then nine months for a hearing and six more for a decision.

Only 20 arbitrators have been jointly approved by the city and union to hear these cases, and they work just five days a month during the school year and two during summer vacation.

The city and union say they're trying to streamline the process, but the rooms have become more crowded - and unhealthy in the case of a Manhattan room recently cited for unsafe conditions like poor ventilation.

In the process, they've spawned a tempest of discontent. A group of 62 people assigned to the centers recently filed suit against both the city and the union, alleging they've conspired to violate teacher rights.

"The way to survive it is to pray or meditate," said a teacher in a Bronx rubber room. "You just have to stay focused and know it will be over at some point. It's like a prison sentence, except you go home every day."

He says bosses look down on teaching
Boubakar Fofana
TITLE: Math teacher
SALARY: $81,359
ACCUSED OF: Corporal punishment

BOUBAKAR FOFANA'S current three-year stint in the rubber room is his third run-in with administrators who he says don't respect teachers.

"There is a culture of looking down at the teaching profession since the 19th century," he said. "This is an extension of that culture."

Fofana, who started teaching in 1989 after first working in his native Ivory Coast, had his first run-in at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1998, when he was accused of unprofessional conduct and corporal punishment and sent to a holding room in another high school before rubber rooms were created.

He was cleared by an arbitrator but got into trouble again in 2001 at Brooklyn's Canarsie High School, where he was accused of pushing and threatening a student.

This time, the city never held a hearing, instead assigning Fofana in 2003 to Medgar Evers Preparatory School on the college's campus in Brooklyn.

There, he was accused of screaming and cursing at students and assigned to the Staten Island rubber room where he still goes — but now with additional charges.

He started a Web site called to spread the word about teachers like him, but was charged with violating student privacy in 2006 for including student information in documents he posted about his discipline case.

All well for 10 years, then trouble times 5
Jaime Castro
TITLE: Bilingual elementary school teacher
SALARY: $81,359
ASSIGNED TO RUBBER ROOM: All but six months since 2002
ACCUSED OF: Incompetence, then corporal punishment

Jaime Castro had a successful, decade-long teaching career until he transferred in 1999 to Manhattan's Public School 208.

The principal didn't seem to want him there, he said, and gave him an unsatisfactory rating two years in a row, landing him in a Manhattan rubber room in 2002 with incompetence charges until 2004, when an arbitrator dismissed those claims.

He returned to his school and was soon accused of hurting a child.

"They said I grabbed him and shook him like an Osterizer," Castro said. "I was astonished . . . from my point of view, it was a setup."

He was cleared of those charges in a 2005 hearing and sent back to the same school where, after a month, he was again accused of corporal punishment.

This time, investigators found insufficient proof and returned him to his school for three months until he was accused again on charges that would never get a hearing.

Castro went back to PS 208 in January, but when another accusation had him preparing to return for a fifth stint in the rubber room, he instead decided to retire — effective last Thursday.

"I feel terrible," he said.

"You don't believe that in a school system, they're going to try to destroy a person in that particular way."

She blames principal – but end's in sight
Jennifer Saunders
TITLE: Film teacher
SALARY: $71,032
ACCUSED OF: Employee misconduct

Jennifer Saunders' troubles began, she said, when she told her principal at Manhattan's High School of Graphic Communication Arts that she had overheard student gossip about a female teacher having an affair with a male student.

The principal became angry and screamed at her, she said, prompting her to complain about him to the superintendent.

Around that time in 2004, the principal eliminated her photography class and assigned her to cover for absent teachers. And the conflict grew.

She filed a police report claiming he elbowed her. He filed a police report saying she harassed him.

Soon, she was facing teacher misconduct charges for a host of infractions including excessive absences, allowing kids to play cards in a room where she was subbing and leaving an open newspaper out on her desk.

She was also accused of singing in an economics class and filing a false police report.

After a hearing, an arbitrator cleared Saunders of every charge except the false report, which he upheld because records showed she was teaching when she claimed the elbowing occurred.

She remained in the rubber room until late January, when she began a four-month unpaid suspension — a $24,000 fine — for that infraction. Soon, she'll return to her school.

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