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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Teacher Francesco Portelos v Principal Linda Hill: Rubber Room Episode

New Yorkers who follow articles on the "rubber rooms" will remember that the media, UFT and Department of Education told the world that the famous "Rubber Rooms" were closed in July 2010 after Michael Mulgrew and Joel Klein agreed, on April 15,  to end this public relations disaster (neither cared about the destruction of rights, hostile work environment, stigma plus torts, etc.).

Nope, nada, nyet, not exactly. What the UFT and DOE did was MOVE the people from the infamous warehouses (8 in all, see my article linked here) and scatter them around town so that no one could TALK to anyone else. The problem, Bloomberg and Klein finally realized, was that the 100+ people in most of the sites were talking about their charges, the 'investigators' etc., and they were finding common false claims, lies, and outright stupidity. 

As we now know, Mayor Mike and his worker bee Joel Klein wanted to remove tenured teachers from the school system because, they believe - and so does the UFT - that all tenured people do no work. Tenure rights assure the person who holds these rights that he or she cannot lose his or her job no matter what happens, so no work means more play at work.

What does not matter to the mega billionaires of the world is, the truth.Facts. All that matters is their Truth, and making sure that everyone else sees their Truth the same way they do.

So, all the pleas and all the documentation of very good, hard-working, tenured NYC Department of Education employees telling the mega billionaires and their wanna-bees how different their views were from the Truth made no difference, because the rich dont have to listen to the non-rich.

The internet and social media are changing these rules.

On the internet, the mega rich and the non-rich are on common ground. Okay, maybe the mega-rich 1% can have a more glitzy look to the company blog, and maybe the home page can blink and burp in color and with catchy tunes, but so what. That's what I love about Facebook. Everyone has the same stuff on their facebook pages, in terms of format, pictures, status, etc. We are all the Same even though we are totally unique.

This is also why I love to document each and every "rubber room" case: every case is totally unique, yet has similarities that intrigue, frustrate and anger anyone who hears about the story.
Franscesco Portelos

There is a reason why I love the story of Francesco Portelos.

He knew that the minute his principal, Linda Hill, started coming for him, that he needed to have the whole world in on the journey.

His blog, "Dont Tread On Mr. Portelos" in my
first article on his journey is now

"DtOE - Dont Tread on Educators"
"PROTECTPORTELOS". You should go there, follow him, keep this postings on your Google reader.

Here's some more background from FP:

How They Went After The Wrong Guy
Principal Linda Hill Visitor map
   Those who oppose me continue to make mistake after mistake after mistake. Every single time they tried to quiet me down, I became louder and LOUDER and LOUDER.
  1. They disciplined me for emailing staff members without permission…… I created a personal email list and now freely email 92 of them under my First Amendment Right.
  2. They tried to silence me at a Union meeting….so I took over and received applause.
  3. They called in the NY Post in attempt to smear my name and discredit me… the students found out and created a support page and my site visits more than doubled. Take a quick look at the comments below the online article.
  4. They falsified documents again to discredit me….so I started an investigation on them.
  5. They tried to silence me about financial questions….so I sent in a F.O.I.L request to see the last 3 years of their after school per session activities.
  6. They took me out of school….so now I am placed at the heart of Staten Island’s educational community, Petrides Center.
  7. I could go on and on, but one of the best was the following…….
After I gave my keys in on Thursday morning, I left the building and sat in a mini non existent Rubber Room at 51 Chambers St. Across the harbor, back at school, the NY State Math exam started and students were in my classroom. In their infinite wisdom, Principal Hill and Assistant Principal Aguirre decided it was the perfect time to bang away and change the 2 locks on my class and closet door for over a half hour. Concerned staff members later notified one person who would have no problem rectifying the problem (even though he was no longer present). I was appalled that they would interfere with the standardized testing and immediately contacted the NY State Test Administration. They told me to also contact the NYC DOE Testing office. The NYC Testing office also told me to notify the NYC Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI). I did and told them to check Camera C2-19 that faces my room. The next day I was happy to hear that NY State officials were present all day to oversee the test. Bravo and kudos to the staff members who also contacted state officials. See how easy it was. I’m sure the potential for more distractions was eliminated on Friday so we made a difference. All this from a mini Rubber Room across the harbor.  That is how I went from being present to omnipresent.
I have some more intel from potential wrongdoing at school coming in. My work on making Berta Dreyfus the best middle school on the island is far from over. Remember that “Sunlight is the best disinfectant." 
  I believe this is the point where they turned on me and made me a scapegoat instead of performing the job they were elected to do. Had they and Principal Linda Hill acted in a proper and professional manner this would have been resolved back then. They did not and instead started building a baseless case against me. Richard Candia and Susanne Abramowitz eventually wrote false statements about me. See File Letter 1 in the Disciplinary Letter section. I have since called the DOE’s Office of Special Investigation to make a complaint for violating NYC Charter section 1116 False Accusations by a City Employee (OSI case 2012-2251). One of the things I find odd is that, back in the winter, Susanne Abramowitz asked UFT President Michael Mulgrew “What do we do if we can’t get rid of a horrible, horrible principal?” So it struck me as strange that now she was handing the principal my innocent Facebook posts.
Since then….

  1. I have been kicked under the table during the January 10th SLT meeting when I disagreed with a comment made by the SLT chair stating that “The teachers agreed to keep the academies.” (in reference to a whole other issue of misrepresentation by the UFT Chapter Leader and SLT Chair)
  2. I was called a “hindrance” to the community by the principal although I rallied to keep PS 14 open down the block the day before. 
  3. I was told to be quiet in a UFT meeting by the chapter leader. He walked out along with his girlfriend and SLT chair and tried getting the other 60+ members to leave. The other union members did not and I continued to speak about how “We are all in this together” and not to fight against each other. I was applauded in the end.
  4. I was falsely accused by the SLT chairperson and UFT Chapter leader for professional misconduct
  5. I had my online account access suspended by the principal when I sent an email to union members refusing to resign as UFT Delegate as per the request of the chapter leader. I also received a Disciplinary letter for emailing union members on a website I legally own and gave the principal admin access to.
  6. I was slandered by the principal in a staff email calling me divisive, accusing me of calling the NY Post to make the school look bad. In the email she also quoted a Greek philosopher speaking virtue but not following it and it just so happens that I am Greek. 
  7. I received a 3rd Disciplinary Letter for staying too late to create engaging lessons.
  8. I had an investigation by NYC Special Commissioner of Investigation started on me and had the investigators confiscate my teacher desktop, iPad and Macbook and even come to my house. (I had this much equipment because I am a technology teacher and involved in several grants.)
  9. Principal Hill was also heard telling School Safety “Stay away from Portelos’ room. We are trying to get him out but it will be extremely difficult.”
  10. I have filed a grievance for interfering with union business and requesting a cease and desist and removal of letter from file.
  11. The CEP for 2011-2012 that is supposed to be aligned with the budget has been posted and the SLT members never signed or certified it. As of our last meeting we were still reviewing it. See SLT minutes for Feb. 7th. Also, the data and goals I proposed in January were on the labtop that was confiscated. I asked the SLT chairperson why the CEP is posted if we didn’t sign. She stated that we are to all sign off at our 3/20/12 meeting.
  12. I was out for 3 days due to Jury Duty. I come back Friday morning to a classroom that was a mess. An Assistant Principal and CFN rep come in right away and spend the next 90 minutes observing the Special Education class I was teaching engineering basics to. They have every right to, but the Assistant Principal is the AP of Security. As she wrote on her clipboard, a random student walks into the class blasting music from an iPod he just passed through the metal detectors. Perhaps her focus should be more on security and less on classroom observations. Just a thought. 
  13. They called the NY Post again and attempted to smear my name and discredit me. It backfired. See comments under article.
  14. Since I was deliberating on a case I was an hour late to the 3/20/12 SLT meeting. While I was absent the SLT Chairperson and Ms. Hill tried to vote me off. There were 2 other members absent as well. They even tried bringing in the Assistant Principals in an effort to intimidate voting. They LOST! I WON! Kudos to those who stayed strong and kept me in. They then asked me to resign and I refused that as well. At the meeting I am also threatened with words like “legal” and “litigation”.
  15. Administrators are asking staff members if they are siding with Portelos or the “school”. Don’t they know the school and I are on the same team?
  16. I received my first ever U rated informal observation report. It is so poorly written and incomplete I really do not know how to approach it.
  17. On April 26th they finally REMOVED ME FROM THE SCHOOL!
“As a matter of self-preservation, a man needs good friends or ardent enemies, for the former instruct him and the latter take him to task.”
Francesco A. Portelos -Created by students I had years ago.
FP is now sitting in one of the many new rubber rooms scattered throughout New York City.If you are on Staten island, you may bump into him.

Posted on  
As I entered the school building, on Thursday April 26, I was met by Principal Linda Hill, Assistant Principal of Security Joanne Aguirre and Safety Agent Gordon. I was asked to step into the auditorium and was handed papers to sign. They stated that I was to report to a reassignment facility and not to return to IS 49 until I have written permission (It did not indicate who the permission should be from). I handed over my keys to Ms. Hill and stated ..”a day that will live in infamy.
As I write this blog post, 24 hrs later, I am still not told the alleged charges that were brought up against me. I sit with other educators who have been here in these “non existent” rubber rooms for months. I have to say that whispers of this were echoing for a month though. See my post below from my first site:
UPDATE 3/31/12: is moving! I am working on a better site with more interactivity, RSS Feed, sharing commenting. Your input is very important to me.
**Word on the streets (hallways) is that they are planning a drastic measure to get me out of school before the upcoming UFT elections. Do not be surprised if an “anonymous” 311 call is made accusing me of doing something awful. Either way they will have to take me out and put me on desk duty while they investigate. 
Interestingly enough I also found this email, dated over a year ago, from Principal Hill. It was in response to my first big attempt to bring to light issues at the school. I spoke up at a Staff Meeting on April 1, 2011 (Maybe I was the fool that day). In response to me bringing up  those issues I received a lengthy email in which I just took a short excerpt out and placed in red below:
On Sun, Apr 3, 2011 at 6:01 PM, Linda Hill wrote:
Dear Francesco,
[Message Truncated]
PS No one will ever discipline you unfairly because you spoke out! You don’t have to “watch your back” in that respect. I know the adults in the building appreciate that they are disciplined respectfully, privately, and fairly should they commit a transgression.
I made the mistake of believing her I guess. Perhaps she was right and I am being disciplined fairly and I deserve this.
On Sun, Apr 3, 2011 at 12:28 PM, Mr. Portelos wrote:
Ms. Hill,
Thank you for calling on me on Friday at the meeting. I’m sorry if you think that might not have been the time and place for that discussion. I  know I’m just a tech teacher with only 4 years experience, but I love Berta  Dreyfus and consider it my second home. There are many days I actually spend  more time there than in my actual home. I also wake up early hours on the weekend distressed about  the condition of our students and our school. I could only imagine what stress you feel having to deal with everything and everyone. You were right, who would trade all the Berta Stock for a day as  principal.

We, the staff, all talk and judge and point fingers behind closed doors and never bring these matters to light. This helps no one and I have had enough of hearing the complaints of my fellow colleagues as well as my own.
 From my seat in Town Hall on Friday I could pretty much see most of the faces of those in the room. I saw a staff that was unified and nodding in agreement when you mentioned that we need to work as one cohesive force and leave the past behind to begin the healing. Most of us agree that this “school source” should not have spoken to the press and bad mouthed anyone. However, when you picked up the paper and read the data to us about most
 incidents happen in the classroom and there isn’t enough engagement, the faces of most staff dropped and eyes rolled. Again, if they disagreed, they weren’t going to say anything to you but seconds after the meeting they were going to start talking behind your back. That is when I took a deep breath, raised my hand and brought up what I knew all the teachers have been thinking and saying… “Problem students seem to be rewarded and many students do things because they truly believe nothing will happen to them. What happened for the rest of the day surprised me but also reconfirmed my beliefs. Teachers as well as Paras were patting me on the back, giving me thumbs up, high 5s and shaking my hand with words like “Thank you.” and “We all have been thinking that and didn’t have the guts to say it.” I even
 received calls to my classroom. Unfortunately many also came to me with “Watch your back!” , “You’ll have a letter in your file within the week!” and “Get your resume together!”. I feel sorry that those staff members even have that negative mentality and fear. Those thoughts are not conducive to a unified school community.

 Linda, I feel so proud going to the elementary schools with Matt, hyping up parents for our TAP and interviewing our potential All-Stars. and administration working together.
 I hope we can all align our arrows, pointing in the same direction and proceed with an unstoppable force to bring the school to the top. I am here, as always, at your service to help try and come up with any solutions.

Mr. Portelos
 STEM Lab Teacher
 Berta Dreyfus IS 49

Children First…..Always?

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