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Sunday, April 13, 2014

In NYC, Criticizing The Department of Education or Making the DOE look "Bad" in Any Way is a Crime

Any parent, child, teacher or administrator who says the DOE stinks, gets punished. If you are a child, and you dispute what a principal says or refuse to write a statement condemning your favorite teacher to a rubber room, you will be threatened with a failing grade, with statements to the effect that your family may be harmed, and/or you may be suspended to an alternative location for no valid reason. The principal may accuse your parents of abuse and call the Administration for Children's Services to have you put into foster care.

If you are a parent, all of your children will be tormented in their classrooms, and SOHO reports will be written that will be forever held against you. You will never see these reports. You may be barred from entering the school, even for Parent-Teacher Conferences.

If you are a teacher, you will be discontinued (if you are not tenured) and put into a rubber room if you are a tenured professional. Why are you removed from your classroom? So that investigators can create false charges against you without your knowledge and consent. This has always, in my opinion, been the purpose of the rubber rooms/ATR pool.

If you are an administrator you are given a promotion to the Children's First Network, demoted to an AP status, or given a school out of control so that you have no chance of making a good impression upon anyone.

My first experience with how much the DOE hates being made a fool of came in 2000, when I spoke up about the theft at Booker T. Washington MS 54 by the Principal, Lawrence ("Larry") Lynch. I was the PTA President. I was called a liar, a thief, and a child abuser, publicly. But I would not succumb to their lies, so they - the DOE -  and their so-called thugs/investigators went after my children.

Then I met David Pakter in 2003, and he told me about the rubber room (25 Chapel Street, Brooklyn) at which he was re-assigned, and I started visiting the teachers there. Then David was charged with 3020-a, and he demanded an open and public hearing so that I could attend. NYSUT Attorney Chris Callagy was his attorney (pictured at left, Betsy Combier and Chris Callegy, photo taken by David Pakter).

Evidently the Department had a problem with David and I publicly making fun of the Department, because suddenly David was charged with making the Department of Education "look bad". This was the first time that I had heard of such a 3020-a charge. David and I spoke with Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT, about it and she agreed with us. She called over to the DOE, demanding that they drop this charge, and the charge was dismissed.

Now, the DOE is again attacking anyone who makes them look bad. I guess because I don't work for them I have not yet received my punishment for my exercise of free speech, but this has not been the case with several teachers who recently publicized the attacks by DOE thugs. Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito, Francesco Portelos and Lydia Howrilka were all charged with making the DOE look bad and were to be fired for getting the attention of media (Lydia was fired because she is not tenured and has no right to a due process hearing known as 3020-a). Francesco was arrested.

You cant make this stuff up.

Betsy Combier

Lydia Howrilka

Bronx teacher thrown in jail after criticizing principal


A Bronx teacher who criticized her boss got a hard lesson recently when she was thrown in jail.
Lydia Howrilka, 24, of the Academy for Language and Technology HS, was fired last July by Principal Arisleyda Urena, who called her ineffective.
Howrilka sued and filed a complaint alleging Urena improperly raffled off iPads and other costly prizes for kids. The claim prompted a DOE probe.
Howrilka sent an e-mail asking about her treatment to Urena and Chancellor Carmen FariƱa — and to some 40 other city and state education officials and city politicians.
She got a call from the NYPD asking her to surrender on Urena’s charge of aggravated harassment.
Howrilka spent seven hours in the 84th Precinct house before being moved to Brooklyn’s Central Booking.
After seven more hours, a court officer said the DA had dismissed the charge.
“I believe it was done to intimidate,” she said. “And I’m concerned it will have a chilling effect on other whistleblowers.”
Urena’s lawyer, Tim Parlatore, said his client called cops “because of repeated, unwanted e-mails and communications.”
Also tossed in the klink was Francesco Portelos, a technology teacher at IS 49 Berta A. Dreyfus on Staten Island, who was yanked from his classroom two years ago, after launching a blog accusing Principal Linda Hall of violating rules. The outcome of his termination hearing on charges of insubordination and other alleged misconduct is pending.
Portelos, 35, who collects a $75,796 salary, wrote a satirical blog post on Feb. 24 saying he had hacked into the DOE’s payroll system with the password “kittensRcute,” and given himself a raise.
“Ridiculous story? Yes it is,” he wrote in the same post, adding “the truth is I can’t hack and never have.”
But the DOE’s chief information security officer, Desmond White, filed a complaint of official misconduct.
The police report asks, “Is Victim fearful of their safety/life?” White apparently answered “YES.”
Portelos spent 33 hours in custody, sleeping on the floor of a crowded cell next to a toilet, he said, before the DA dropped the charge.
The DOE made no apology. “We believe Mr. Portelos acted inappropriately with a post on his blog, and we notified the NYPD out of an abundance of caution,” a spokesman said.

A Look Back at 2012 and the ATR Mess

Let's summarize the ATR mess for those readers who still do not know what NYC is talking about. Mayor Bloomberg wanted an end to tenure for teachers. He did several things to make sure this happened, such as deceiving teachers brought to 3020-a hearings that they had no right to oppose the procedure used to charge them.

But the arbitrators did not terminate everyone, and the Rubber Rooms became a public relations nightmare and Bloomberg had to close them.  A second way to remove tenured teachers was to create a pool of professional, tenured teachers who were not fired at 3020-a or whose Principals could not create enough false charges to bring to a 3020-a trial. These professional tenured teachers were pushed into a rudderless ship called "Absent Teacher Reserve" or "ATR" status where they have no UFT chapter leader and basically no rights to any part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (UFT contract).

These gypsies go from school to school, assigned to classes outside their license area and told to teach children they know nothing about. Where is the UFT? According to a source, the UFT suggested rotating teachers as substitutes and the DOE agreed to do this. According to the Commissioner's Regulations Regulations 80-5.3, a superintendent may allow a teacher to teach in a certification/license area outside of his or her own for no more than five classroom hours per week. This practice is known as “incidental teaching,” and, according to the state guidelines, it is acceptable only “when no certified or qualified teacher is available after extensive and documented recruitment.”

Even a bathroom key is a problem. ATRs are assigned security desk duty, cafeteria and hallway bathroom access monitoring, Xeroxing, etc. Principals don't respect them, and the kids don't either.

Now, the DOE has sent in a new troop to observe these ATR transients: Field Supervisors. These people observe the ATRs as they try to teach a curriculum they know nothing about to children who they have only met that day, or a day or two prior. Most certainly this process has nothing to do with helping children learn anything. The entire observation/evaluation process has been overturned.

How does this make sense? And, please notice that the UFT is a partner with the DOE in setting all of this up and doing nothing to protect members.

The new rubber room is worse than the old. Remember, I have said all along, the "rubber room is not a place, but a process."

Betsy Combier

Below is a very good post on NYC ATR from August 2012 on a third way that Bloomberg made professional tenured teachers into trash, by closing schools and making teachers re-apply for their jobs. Then, all a principal has to do is sift through the most senior teachers with the highest salaries, and make up a reason not to hire them back. Easy.

GEM/ATR Committee: Protect pre-Turnaround ATR teachers

The GEM/ATR Committee has issued a statement in response to the recent arbitrator's decision that saved hundreds of teachers from being assigned to the ATR pool. The Committee's statement is presented here verbatim; only the occasional bold typeface is the addition of NYCATR.

GEM/ATR Committee: Protect pre-Turnaround ATR teachers

The GEM/ATR Committee has issued a statement in response to the recent arbitrator's decision that saved hundreds of teachers from being assigned to the ATR pool.The Committee's statement is presented here verbatim; only the occasional bold typeface is the addition of NYCATR.
August 11, 2012

1) The UFT is to be applauded for its efforts to defeat the DOE's efforts to vilify veteran teachers and send teachers in the 24 turnaround schools into the ATR pool. The arbitrator said that the DOE was wrong in making teachers reapply for their positions.

However, we call upon the president to extend the same commitment of protection to teachers that have been excessed prior to this June.

This tactic of closing down schools is an old one under Bloomberg, Klein, Black and Walcott. The only thing that is different with the present instance is that the DOE was trying to close schools and circumvent the messy PEP process that resulted in organized community opposition and lawsuits.

There is now court precedent on our side. In New York State on July 24, Judge Joan Lobis sustained the arbitrator’s position by saying that teachers’ contracts must be respected. (290 82nd 338) In Louisiana on June 20, Judge Ethel Simms Julien used the same reasoning to say that 7,000 post-Katrina school employees were wrongly fired in New Orleans. (As this last example is in another state, this can be deemed “persuasive” in a legal argument application for our state.)

While the teachers in the 24 turnaround schools have been saved, it is important to not forget the teachers new to the ATR pool from schools that the DOE has successfully shut down and the prior generation of ATRs.The UFT must insist on a hiring freeze until ATRs have been placed, as it did on September 12, 2007.*

The excessed teachers are not the causes for "failing schools." The schools the DOE targets for closure disproportionately have low income students, high percentages of special education and ELL students.

1-a) Stop the Lockout
It's time that Mulgrew and the UFT defend all of the ATRs and fight for their placement, just as hard as they fought for the preservation of the positions of the teachers in the 24 schools slated for "closing."

ATRs are being locked out of positions.
i) ATRs go unhired while novice teachers, many fresh out of college or education school, are placed in positions. We call for the termination of the new replacement workers and for their replacement by ATRs.
ii) Adding insult to injury, workers with the title of teacher are the one class of UFT professional that is forced on a weekly sojourn. The DOE is placing guidance counselors, social workers, librarians and paraprofessionals in full-school year assignments.
iii) ATRs are asked during job interviews to demonstrate their competency in new teaching protocols: Common Core, workshop model, Danielson Method. Novice teachers are given preferential treatment with summer training in these areas. We call for the termination of novice training and for the offering of training to ATRs.

1-b) No to ending careers with buy-outs
The UFT leadership’s talk of a buy-out is a caving in to the DOE's harassment of ATRs. Mulgrew did not defend the ATRs' teaching integrity when the DOE spoke of the ATRs as dead-weight during the May news reports of buy-out talks.

1-c) No to observations of ATRs
Observations of ATRs beginning in the 2011-2012 are another product of a side agreement to contracts. It is inappropriate for teachers to be observed with students that they have just met, with students that know that the lesson is just a sample lesson.

2) No more side-agreements to contracts
The UFT must stop making agreements to the status of ATRs outside of the contract process. In these side agreements the city is biting off, in piecemeal fashion, contract protections of senior teachers. As an example, on April 15, 2010, and in the summer of 2011 the DOE and the UFT made an ATR agreement without any input from ATRs or other rank and file members of the UFT. These side agreements are made without the sort of membership vote to which contracts are subjected. Yet, the agreements carry the same powerful weight that contracts carry.

3) Dues equity for ATRs: Elected reps of ATRs’ choosing
Furthermore, the UFT must stop its opposition to the ATRs' practice of their electoral rights. ATRs have no venue by which to vote for representatives that come from their ranks to express their interests. Other distinctive groups, such as paraprofessionals and career and technical school teachers have their special divisions. ATRs, with ranks at an estimated 830, equal the size of teaching staffs at about ten large schools put together. For the reasons of parity, ATRs must have elected representatives at the boro level.

The UFT held during the 2011 to 2012 year that ATRs could vote in whatever school that they were serving for a given week. This is disingenuous. How can an ATR within a few days size up the main issues at a given school and properly weigh the strengths and weaknesses of two or three candidates at the school? It is further unfair to the staff in the school in question. ATRs, as outsiders, in close races could tip elections, affecting the outcome for the staff to be represented at that school.

The UFT needs to recognize that we are not in a temporary status. It knows, full well, that principals are not inclined to hire them, due to their senior salary level. There is no valid rationale in opposing chapters and representatives with the argument that giving ATRs representation will institutionalize their status. Given that many ATRs have been in this status for more than two years, they already have an institutionalized status by default.

*"Dispelling rumors that their jobs might be in jeopardy, Weingarten made clear that teachers who find themselves working as ATRs maintain their salary benefits and cannot be fired or laid off thanks to a job-security guarantee that the UFT secured in the 2005 contract.
"At a Sept. 12 [2007] labor-management meeting that Weingarten requested on the treatment of excessed teachers, UFT officials called for a moratorium on new hiring until vacancies are filled by current ATRs in the district or high school superintendency provided they have the appropriate license.
"'Filling vacancies with ATRs meets both federal and state requirements related to having a 'highly qualified teacher' in every classroom,' said Weingarten.'"
"DOE officials agreed at the Sept. 12 meeting to modify the new school financing system to encourage principals to hire ATRs. The school will get filled for the first year as if the teacher were a new hire and for the second year at 50 percent of the teacher's actual salary before assuming the cost of the actual salary before assuming the cost of the teacher's actual salary in the teacher's third year at the school.
"UFT officials also urged the DOE, in the next open market transfer period, to require that principals grant interviews, in seniority order, to ATRs with the appropriate license to fill vacancies before new recruits are interviewed or hired. Principals should also be required to put in writing why the ATR was nor hired for the position, the union said.
"The UFT also demanded that all ATRs be allowed access to all DOE job fairs. The union made the demand after receiving word that the DOE barred ATRs from attending job fairs for prospective new teachers last spring." New York Teacher, Sept. 20, 2007.