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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Harlem Success Academy Charter School Wants You

There seems to be a problem with the 'success' of the Harlem Success Academy Charter School. The staff is all leaving. See below for all the job openings, and the job descriptions. But parents want something better than the public school system (see pictures below of the overflowing auditorium for the charter lottery).

We know that an investigation was started in 2008 because of the rumor of $350,000 going to NEST+M from NY City Council when Eva Moskowitz was City Council Education Committee Chair, and the following september her son was accepted into the only k-12 gifted and talented citywide school in New York City. I wonder how that works....

What is it about Eva Moskowitz that attracts so many enemies?
by Elizabeth Green, Gotham Schools

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who has done some seriously good work in the past [1], this week took his pistol-like investigative skills to the skull of charter school operator and eternal politician Eva Moskowitz — first in a story on the erosion of parent voices in the city schools [2], and then in a story on Moskowitz’s salary [3]. Gonzalez challenges the salary, which he reports as $371,000 last year (Moskowitz says the real figure is $250,000 plus a $60,000 bonus), suggesting that she should give some of her pay back to her charter schools.

This is hardly the first criticism that’s been thrown at Moskowitz, who previously served as the chair of the City Council’s education committee and ran for borough president of Manhattan, losing to Scott Stringer after the teachers union campaigned against her. As Gonzalez reports, her critics include “educators, parents, the teachers’ union and Harlem political leaders.”

Why’s there so much hate for a woman who has decided to spend her days starting schools for poor and mostly black children in Harlem? There are now many charter school operators in this city. Why focus on Moskowitz? I asked around today and collected three different theories:

1) This theory is the one that’s implicit in Gonzalez’s report: She deserves the scrutiny because she’s not what she claims. She claims that her charter schools are unfairly underfunded by the state — but then she rakes in a big salary herself. She similarly claims to want to improve public education — but then she goes along with a Department of Education plan to move her charter school into an existing public school, effectively allowing the city to go over the heads of parents and, as Gonzalez put it in an another piece this week [2], “rezone a public school.” (Only about 30 families will be displaced.)

2) The second theory comes by way of a charter school official who asked not to be named because he hadn’t shared his thoughts with Moskowitz. He told me that Moskowitz suffers a style problem. Rather than approaching the district public schools with respect, Moskowitz makes a habit of dismissing their work as unacceptable.

“‘You’re trash,’ is what the message is. ‘You’re trash, and get out of the way, because we know what to do and you don’t,’” the official said. “No person can say that. I don’t think any person has that authority. Especially someone who hasn’t run a successful school for more than a few years.” He said the better method, practiced by several other city charter schools, is to develop relationships of respect and trust, to work together rather than to fight the old system. “Even the KIPP people,who have a much logner track record of success, they speak with a level of humility,” the official said.

3) The third theory is Moskowitz’s own. She acknowledges that she doesn’t work in the same style as other charter school leaders might — but she thinks that’s a good thing. Here’s how she put it to me:

We have to always be respectful of people because being nice is the right thing to do and important, but I think we have a moral obligation to identify schools that are not working for kids, and unfortunately there are a lot of them. If that’s disrespectful – if saying that a school is failing is offensive – I think that we can’t be politically correct and sacrifice children in the process.

The result is that she’s willing and eager to declare schools as failures, and to urge that they be replaced with something new. And the result of that is a powerful challenge to the status quo that she says can mean a high price for her. “Even at considerable personal and professional cost, I’ve never been afraid to raise the bar and to do what I think is right for children and teaching and learning,” she said. “And that’s incredibly threatening.”

Norm Scott's blog posted the following:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Eva Moskowitz is Not Running a Lean Organization
Reprinted from the comments section at Gotham Schools

1. Eva Moskowitz is not running a lean organization. The proportion of “back office” educrats to teachers in her “network” is far far higher than she would let you believe. The proportion of non-instructional people in her network is also far higher than in the DOE. There are PR people and personal assistants for Eva.

2. The people hired by Eva Moskowitz have very little experience in education, unless you count attending school as a student. Find out the background of her “Directors of Curriculum” etc. Virtually no teaching experience.

3. The Harlem Success network does not spend money wisely. All employees get laptops but there are no computers for the students to use. Yes, they may have SmartBoards in the classrooms, but there are no desktops or laptops for student use.

4. Despite their claim to “hire the best” turnover has been very high. The principal of HSA 1 was fired the week before the 3rd grade ELA test.

5. The network is focused on PR stunts rather than their students. The NY Times piece on their Snow Day schedule is indicative. PR trumps student and teacher safety.
Posted by Norm @ ed notes online at 8:08 PM

From the website of HSA:

"Academics, Overview
Our mission is to ensure that every Harlem Success scholar graduates from college. In addition to literacy and math, we teach art, science five days a week, chess, writing, geography, social studies, dance, soccer, and more. If a child loves being in school, they will love learning.
Course offerings

Literacy and Math: Success for All
For literacy and math, we use Success for All, a program designed at Johns Hopkins University, that has produced astounding results in 1300 schools nationwide. Success for All equips educators with the necessary tools to provide students with an outstanding education.

The Success for All literacy curriculum is a phonics-based program with an emphasis on children's literature. Every eight weeks, the students are tested and are placed into literacy groups by ability rather than age to ensure that all children progress at the level that's right for them. If a first grade student has mastered first grade level reading content, he or she will join a second grade literacy group. If a first grade student is struggling with the material, he or she will receive one-on-one tutoring from highly-skilled professionals.

MathWings, the Success for All math curriculum uses hands-on materials to engage students and give them a strong math foundation. Students are assessed every three to four weeks to ensure that all students are given the support they need to master the content and move forward.

Monitoring Student Progress: Data and Ongoing Assessment
All students are tested when they walk into the building so we can identify their starting point, track their growth, and make academic interventions in real-time. Monitoring student progress is an ongoing activity in all Harlem Success classrooms.

Harlem Success students take science five days a week, for an hour each day, beginning in kindergarten. In schools around the country, science has taken a back seat to literacy and math, subjects that many would consider a prerequisite for all other learning.

In Executive Director Eva Moskowitz's (she is pictured above) report for the City Council's Education Committee, "Lost in Space: Science Education in New York City Public Schools" she writes, "Long before they can read, children ask endless questions - Why is the sky blue? Where does snow come from? - that can and should be explored in science class. Children love to experiment, and they love to ask questions, but our schools have not capitalized on this natural curiosity."

Harlem Success' science curriculum capitalizes on this curiosity. The curriculum takes a hands-on, discovery approach to learning science. Children conduct experiments and are encouraged to observe and ask questions about the world around them. We don’t read about frogs, we dissect them.

Harlem Success encourages all students to think ahead. Chess teaches strategy and higher-order thinking. Harlem Success' chess instructor extraordinaire Carlos Sanchez began teaching chess in the year 2000 in New York City public schools and has helped more than 6000 students discover and learn the fun game of chess. Of his teaching skills, Mr. Sanchez says, "I feel that great sense of awe and inspiration knowing my students have a million questions for me because when I walk into a classroom. I AM ALSO READY TO LEARN!"

Visual Arts
While Harlem Success emphasizes rigorous academics and discipline, we also encourage creativity—and our art program is thriving. Arts education at Harlem Success gives all children the ability to express themselves, draw meaning from the world around them, develop their unique personalities, appreciate great works of art, and perhaps most important, enjoy school. Student art work is showcased throughout the hallways to instill pride and to create a welcoming school environment.

Geography and Social Studies
At Harlem Success we prepare children not just for success on tests, but for success in life. We teach geography and social studies to give children an understanding of the world around them.

Physical Education
All students engage in physical activity everyday. Students take dance, soccer and basketball to learn discipline and exercise their bodies. In addition to twice-weekly soccer instruction, Harlem Success scholars have intramural soccer games several weekends per year.

"Harlem Success Academy Charter Schools.
In August 2006, amidst great anticipation, Harlem Success Academy 1 opened its doors to 150 Kindergarten and 1st grade students from the Harlem community. Since then, Harlem Success Academy has expanded its reach to nearly 1000 students by launching 3 more schools in 2008 and advancing to 3rd grade in its flagship. All schools operated by Harlem Success seek to prepare and inspire urban students from low-income neighborhoods for college with an ambitious program that develops character and encourages critical thinking.

The program.
Harlem Success Academies invest in children early. From the moment our Kindergartners walk through our doors and enter our lively classrooms, they become scholars on the road to college graduation. Every moment in school is seized as an opportunity for learning: scholars are encouraged to follow the wise words of Dr. Seuss and "Go Beyond Z" in all aspects of their lives, and faculty is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to ensure academic success. Our student achievement outcomes attest to our belief in the idea that every child can succeed. After only 2.5 years in operation, our first school, Harlem Success Academy 1, has dramatically increased reading and math scores for our students. It has also produced an unparalleled school culture that served as a template for 3 new Harlem Success Academies launched in August 2008. We seek to reform public education in NYC by launching 30-40 high-performing Success Academies in low-income neighborhoods in 10 years.

Welcome to Harlem Success Academy Charter School's
Online Application Process

Join Our Team

To establish a complete pre-employment file, please complete the online application. Your application will be retained in active status for one school year. If your qualifications meet our needs, we will contact you for further information and a possible interview.

Please note: If you apply for any instructional position, you will be required to provide information in your application regarding your teaching experience including certification status and a lesson plan of your own design.

Choose an option below.

* View our open positions

Teacher quality is the single most important factor in a child’s education. For our founding faculty, we scouted teaching talent from around the country. We selected our 13 founding faculty members from an applicant pool of 1700.

At Harlem Success, we seek to unleash the full potential of our teachers. Our teachers are part of the brain trust that makes this school great. Harlem Success teachers are dedicated professionals who provide excellent instruction, design intelligent curriculum, analyze real-time student performance data, and work collaboratively to raise the bar for student achievement.

Harlem Success currently has positions open for teachers, instructional leadership, school management team, interns and volunteers."

28 positions open at the Harlem Success location. Staff turnover is very high, showing that all is not smooth sailing at the charter school.

Here is "The School Culture" webpage:

School Culture

You can tell from the moment that you walk into a school whether the adults in the building care about kids, whether the kids love being in school, and whether everyone is focused on achieving a set of common goals. That is what we call school culture.

At Harlem Success, the teachers and staff care deeply about our students and work tirelessly to ensure their success. The hallways are safe, clean, quiet and filled with colorful student work.

College Graduation:
We all know, it takes a lot to get to college. For kindergartners, college may seem like a distant concept, and may have less meaning for them than the Way 2 Go! sticker they get for helping a classmate. How do we teach kindergartners to set college as a goal for themselves? We begin by referring to their class by the year they will graduate from college. They will forever remember that they are the college graduating class of 2022, 2023, and so on. We also refer to their classrooms by the college that their teacher went to.

Beyond Z:
Our kids know we have high expectations because we ask them to go “Beyond Z” everyday. In the timeless children’s book, On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss urges his young readers to think what possibilities may lie beyond the letter “z” if you work hard enough, are creative enough, and are open to what might not immediately meet the eye. Each day, our scholars work hard to go “Beyond Z.”

A Harlem Success Scholar goes “Beyond Z” if he or she acts in accordance with our core A.C.T.I.O.N values – Agency, Curiosity, to Try & Try, Integrity, Others and No Shortcuts. We teach our scholars to take responsibility for their own actions, to always ask questions, to work harder today than yesterday, to be honest and trustworthy, to be a nice and thoughtful member of their community and to never look for the easy way out.

Parent Involvement and “The Contract”:
If you ask a Harlem Success parent whether we have high expectations, and whether we place their children’s achievement at the very top of our list, we’re sure you’ll hear a resounding YES!

Harlem Success parents care deeply about their children’s success and go “Beyond Z” to achieve our common goals. Our parents and students sign “The Contract” and commit to coming to school everyday, on time, dressed in uniform, ready to learn. We are strict about attendance because to us, every minute of instruction counts. We continuously review our school schedule to be sure we are making the most efficient use of our time. We are strict about uniforms because we want all energies focused on student performance – not on who has the latest sneakers.

Former City Council member Eva Moskowitz makin' a bundle at nonprofit schools
Friday, February 27th 2009, 12:32 AM

Ex-Council member Eva Moskowitz made $371,000 for running four charter academies, more than Chancellor Joel Klein got for running 1,400 city schools. Costanza for News

Eva Moskowitz, the former City Council member who founded a small chain of nonprofit charter schools, is a passionate and abrasive champion of the charter school movement.

She's also making a bundle.

Moskowitz, who makes no secret of her desire to create 40 charter schools across the city and run for mayor some day, raked in $371,000 in salaries in the 2006-2007 school year from organizations connected to her four schools, tax records show.

Those schools, Harlem Success Academy 1, 2, 3 and 4, have an enrollment of about 1,000 pupils, from kindergarten to third grade.

The nonprofit organizations connected to the schools have yet to file more recent tax returns, but Moskowitz said in an interview late Thursday she received $310,000 last year - the 2007-2008 year - $250,000 in salary and $60,000 in a bonus.

That means Moskowitz, who is responsible for four schools, makes more than Chancellor Joel Klein, who gets $250,000 to run 1,400 schools.

In 2006-2007, she even surpassed John Ryan, the former chancellor of the State University of New York, who earned $340,000 to manage some 70 campuses with nearly 300,000 students.

Needless to say, she left your run-of-the-mill public school principal, with an average annual salary of $124,000, in the dust.

Tax records show in her first year of operation Moskowitz made $85,000 as executive director of Harlem Success Academy, the group that receives DOE money to operate the charter schools.

At the same time, she received $186,000 as chief executive officer of the Success Charter Network, a separate nonprofit that provides "management services" to her schools.

Finally, she received $100,000 as an "independent contractor" for Friends of Gotham Charter School, which provides support finances for Harlem Success.

All three organizations share an address and list as officers Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, the millionaire hedge fund managers who bankrolled the Success Charter Network.

Moskowitz said her unusually high pay for 2006-2007, included compensation for months of planning work from the previous year.

"Yes, I earn a good living," Moskowitz said. "I also have an enormous responsibility to try and design 40 schools that are immensely successful. If your child walks into my school, I treat them like my child."

Charter schools are free to use the money they raise from outside sources any way they see fit - even if that means huge salaries for the chief executive.

Given that Moskowitz routinely complains that the Department of Education has failed to provide a fair share of funding for her students, it's fair to ask why she's paying herself so much for educating so few. Charters get about 90% of what it costs to teach each child and raise funds for additional money.

Parents from Moskowitz's schools vehemently defend the Harlem Success Academy and say their kids are making phenomenal progress. That could very well be true, but the DOE has not posted independent test results for any of the Moskowitz schools.

Her critics, who include educators, parents, the teachers' union and Harlem political leaders, say she is a relentless self-promoter.

They say she is not shy about packing public meetings with a parent group she has organized, and then demanding that other public schools give up their space to make way for her programs.

"We had one meeting in East Harlem last year where she bused in her [students'] parents, and the situation got ugly and tense as they kept demanding space in our school," said one East Harlem community leader.

This week, more than 500 parents from the Harlem Success Academy were bused to a hearing at Public School 241 in West Harlem, a school the DOE wants to phase out and turn over to Moskowitz.

"We're unwilling to accept failure," Moskowitz said. "PS 241 has failed for years on end, and it needs to change."

Parents who send their children to 241, along with the local Community Education Council, say the DOE is violating the law by eliminating a zoned public school and replacing it with a charter.

November 4, 2008
Charter School Chief Keeps a Hand in Politics

A recent 14-hour day in the life of Eva S. Moskowitz — former city councilwoman, someday mayoral aspirant, current chief of a fast-growing chain of Harlem charter schools — began with a metal bowl of nectarines. “Is it possible,” Ms. Moskowitz asked a cafeteria worker in the urgent tone familiar from her City Hall hearings, “to get the fruit on something lower?”

After ensuring that the smallest children could see one of their healthier breakfast options, Ms. Moskowitz, 44, moved on to weightier issues: advising a novice principal on how to approach a testy parent, figuring out who should replace a first-grade teacher who quit, arguing about the city’s methods for doling out space to charter schools. She zipped from school to school to cocktail party, all in four-inch patent-leather heels and juggling a latte, cellphone and the BlackBerry on which she routinely shoots pointed notes to city officials.

“It is the accumulation of the hundreds of minute decisions that is the difference between mediocrity and true excellence,” read a recent 14-paragraph Moskowitz message to a senior Education Department employee that began about scheduling difficulties but became broadly philosophical. “We at Harlem Success literally go for perfection.”

This is the woman (pictured at right) who, during four years of running the City Council Education Committee, agitated the bureaucracy and the teachers’ union alike with exhaustive hearings on the dearth of science classes, the restrictions of the union contract and, famously, the matter of why so many school bathrooms seemed perpetually to lack toilet paper. Now, with the zeal of a bureaucracy-busting superhero, Ms. Moskowitz has channeled her interests in matters mind-bending and minute into the Success Charter Network, which started in 2006 with Harlem Success Academy 1, added three more schools this summer and plans to expand to 40 over a decade.

“She could be looked at as a lightning rod or a zealous advocate,” said Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, a Democrat who represents Harlem.

“You can initiate, you can start, you can maintain a charter school and not be so controversial,” he added. “I think the jury is still out. If our kids are educated, the proof will be in the pudding, and educated kids speak for themselves.”

It is, indeed, too early to assess her success; the first school will face standardized tests for the first time this year (and therefore has not yet received a letter grade under the Bloomberg administration’s new accountability system). But the network has drawn unusual attention from parents, politicians and philanthropists.

This spring, the schools received 3,600 applications for 600 slots, and 5,000 people, including Gov. David A. Paterson and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, attended the highly orchestrated admissions lottery, where parents wept tears of joy as their children’s names were drawn. Ms. Moskowitz and her board of directors have raised $9 million in private donations to support the growing network, though they plan to have each school survive on public dollars by its third year.

Crucial to the intrigue is Ms. Moskowitz herself, since those who make and critique education policy rarely trade in their gavels for daily work with real children in real schools where even the perfect plan can go awry — as it did the other day, when a kindergartner wet himself on the office floor just as a mayor from Rhode Island arrived for a tour.

Charters, which are publicly financed but independently operated, are rarely run by politicians, which is perhaps why Ms. Moskowitz sees her job as not just to create a model network of schools, but also to change city and state policy.

And Ms. Moskowitz — whose $250,000 salary, paid for with private money, matches the chancellor’s — is not just the chief executive, she is also a parent. Her son, a sweet-faced redhead, is a kindergartner at Harlem Success 3, one of the very few white students in a set of schools where virtually all children are black or Hispanic, and roughly three-quarters are poor.

Critics say Ms. Moskowitz, who openly discusses the possibility of running for mayor someday, is more politician than educator (although she taught history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and the College of Staten Island before running for City Council in 1997), and accuse her of expanding the charter schools too quickly. Each school started with kindergarten and first grades, and each plans to add a grade every year through middle school; Ms. Moskowitz hopes to open three or four new schools in 2010.

With such rapid expansion, staffing is a critical challenge: As at most other city charters, Harlem Success teachers are not unionized, and work a longer school day and year than those at traditional public schools. Within the flagship school’s first few months, the assistant principal and two teachers were let go. Five of last year’s 20 primary classroom teachers did not return this year, and turnover has been high among the largely 20-something back-office staff.

“Between law school, not liking New York and the boyfriends, we could be out of business tomorrow,” Ms. Moskowitz said in frustration. Congratulating her staff on a smooth start of school, she also cautioned them: “Opening schools and running them at a high level are two very different things. And that’s really going to be the hard part.”

Attention to Details

A tour through Ms. Moskowitz’s schools is like a nostalgia trip through her Council Education Committee agendas. Hearings on the lack of science classes have translated into all Harlem Success students having science every day. Hearings on the lack of technology inspired EduTube, on which teachers post videos of model lessons.

Each school’s operations manager — one of several positions Ms. Moskowitz created to keep principals focused on teaching instead of paperwork — makes the rounds each morning to, among other things, make sure each bathroom has toilet paper, documenting those that do not with digital cameras.

These are also schools clearly run by a mother. Mindful of the time it takes to tie tiny shoelaces, Ms. Moskowitz mandates Velcro footwear. The fact that her son Culver barely spoke at age 3 but played chess by 4 is behind the school’s policy of teaching chess to every child.

She describes the Harlem Success educational philosophy as a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model. In an age when kindergarten is increasingly academic, and many urban charter schools have taken a militaristic approach to learning, the Harlem Success kindergartens have dress-up corners, water-activity tables and Legos but also use the highly scripted Success for All reading curriculum and embrace standardized tests. Even kindergartners take TerraNova exams in literacy and math, in January and May.

Sheree Thomas, 36, plays the “Rocky” theme song before her third graders’ test-prep sessions: “They know he tried, they know he got beat down, and they know he triumphed,” she said.

Since the first school opened in 2006, the curriculum has been a work in progress. Officials are rethinking how their students are taught writing, and Ms. Moskowitz was clearly exasperated while recently reviewing responses to a practice test, in which third graders were asked to read a passage about a family’s berry-picking expedition, then predict what might happen next.

“Some one told there berries,” read one of the more inadequate answers — a testament to the learning that must still take place. Concerned that part of the problem was teachers’ and administrators’ low expectations, Ms. Moskowitz ordered a staff member to collect third-grade writing samples from the prestigious Brearley School.

Hardball, on a New Field

Even as she parades through school hallways instead of City Hall, Ms. Moskowitz still operates like a politician, and still plays hardball.

She has had particularly rocky relationships with some of the traditional public schools that house her charters. Last spring, she referred to the fight to house a Harlem Success school inside Public School 123 as a “Middle East war” (she later apologized). When P.S. 123 officials repeatedly refused to open three locked closets in a Harlem Success section of the building, Ms. Moskowitz hired a locksmith, an incident that has entered Harlem Success lore as “closetgate.”

In lobbying for her own needs and the broader charter school agenda downtown and in Albany, one of Ms. Moskowitz’s most powerful tools is Harlem Success parents, whom she helped organize into a group called Harlem Parents United. They showed up en masse last spring at public hearings regarding Harlem Success’s bids for space in public school buildings; the outpouring, and the result, was very different from what happened in the spring of 2006, when public outcry led the department to backtrack on its initial plans for placing Harlem Success 1.

Ms. Moskowitz’s relationship with Chancellor Klein, who spoke at a recent Harlem Success fund-raiser, has improved since the days when she derided the Education Department’s lack of transparency to the point of threatening subpoenas. But while the Bloomberg administration prides itself on running one of the nation’s most charter-friendly districts, Ms. Moskowitz continues to push. The day that began with the ill-placed fruit bowl, for instance, ended at a cocktail party, where Ms. Moskowitz grilled Michael Thomas Duffy, Mr. Klein’s top aide for charter schools, over the city’s formula for allocating space to charters.

Mr. Duffy, in an interview, conceded that conversations with Ms. Moskowitz can run “hot”; he recounted his early days in the job, when what he thought would be a 45-minute get-to-know-you turned into a two-hour meeting dominated by her frustration at not being able to obtain potential students’ contact information. “She dispensed with the niceties pretty quickly,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Duffy described the Harlem Success lottery this spring as a “watershed event,” saying “it seemed to crystallize an understanding of the permanency of charter schools in the city, that there’s no going back.”

Winning Parents Over

There are now 78 charter schools in New York City, with 24,000 students, up from 17 schools with 3,200 students in 2002. A disproportionate number of the schools, 21, are in Harlem, a fact that has irked some and thrilled others. The Success Network was created by Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, business partners at Gotham Capital, a Manhattan hedge fund, who chose the location because, as Mr. Petry put it in an e-mail message, “many/most of the Harlem schools have underperformed for years, if not decades.”

Ms. Moskowitz grew up at 118th Street and Morningside Drive, then moved to the Upper East Side. After a failed bid for Manhattan borough president in 2005, she was hired to run Success and moved back to Harlem, buying a condominium within a 10-minute walk of three of the schools.

She demands a lot from Harlem Success parents: They must read their children six books a week, year round, and attend multiple school events, from soccer tournaments to Family Reading Nights. If children are repeatedly late, the parents must join them to do penance at Saturday Academy.

Nefertiti Washington, 28, whose son is a kindergartner, said some parents walked out of a springtime information session when Ms. Moskowitz made her expectations clear by saying, “If you know you cannot commit to all that we ask of you this year, this is not the place for you.”

Ms. Washington and Katrina Young, 43, who swapped tales at a recent Family Reading Night on their sons’ rapid transformation into bookworms, said they welcomed the opportunity to be involved, and described the schools as a godsend. Ms. Washington recalled opening a book one evening, only to have her son demand, “Mommy, who is the illustrator?”

Ms. Moskowitz said she and her husband, a lawyer, thought hard about where to send their middle child to school; their older son is in fifth grade at a public gifted program, and their younger daughter is in a Jewish Community Center preschool.

The couple ruled out private school for financial and ideological reasons, she said, and were wary of traditional public schools because of their belief that the union contracts she railed against during her City Hall days allow mediocre teachers to remain in classrooms. In the end, they picked Harlem Success because she believes in what she is building.

“When I honestly assessed where the instruction was phenomenal,” she said, “it was at my own schools.”

Public School 123 space spat pits Eva Moskowitz against Harlem parents
BY ERIN EINHORN, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER, Tuesday, April 1st 2008, 4:00 AM

A former city councilwoman is gearing up for what she's calling a "Middle East war" over classroom space for her charter school.

"Dividing land ain't pretty," said Eva Moskowitz, the former chairwoman of the Council's Education Committee who now heads the Harlem Success Academy.

Like many of those running the publicly funded, privately run charters that have taken up residence in a portion of an existing public school, Moskowitz has her eye on classrooms in Public School 123 on W. 140th St. in Harlem for one of three new charters she plans to open in September.

And like many schools across the city that have faced the prospect of sharing their gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums and hallway space with a new school, the parents at PS 123 aren't having it.

"We have three lunch periods already, starting at 10:30 a.m.," said PS 123's PTA president, Antoinette Hargrove. "We've had so many improvements here. We don't want to see everything we've worked hard for going down the drain."

Hargrove is marshaling as much support as she can among parents at her school and community leaders in Harlem to block the charter, mirroring the kinds of protests that have often sprung up across the city when new schools are announced for existing buildings.

Though hundreds of new schools have settled into old buildings without incident - city officials say 280 new schools, including 45 charters, have been created since 2002, with as many as 70 more expected to open in September - there are loud, contentious fights at schools around the city every year.

What makes this battle different is Moskowitz and her plan to fight back.

She plans to bring "hundreds" of parents who support her charter to a meeting between PS 123 families and city officials scheduled for tonight.

"This time, there is another side," she said. "To me, the public policy issue here is that this is a public school building, a public resource. I would argue that it's owned by the citizens of New York and it's supposed to be used in the best interest of children."

School officials say PS 123 has only 581 students in a building designed for more than 1,000 kids, but Hargrove counters that the population fluctuates because of nearby shelters.

"They're not giving us extra funds for these shelter children," Hargrove said. "Instead, they're bringing in [charters]. ... Soon, there's going to be no more public schools."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bronx Mom Sues to Remove PCBs from Public Schools

Bronx mother Naomi Gonzalez sues city over PCBs in public school buildings
BY Bill Egbert, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER, Thursday, March 26th 2009, 4:00 AM

A year after a Daily News investigation revealed illegal contamination in public school buildings, a Bronx mother of two is suing the city to force a cleanup.

Naomi Gonzalez plans to file a notice of intent to sue today over what she says is the city's refusal to remove caulk contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from her children's school.

Emelina, 6, and Devin, 11, attend PS 178 in the Bronx, where lab tests commissioned by The News found PCB contamination was more than 2,000 times higher than the threshold for toxic waste.

"This is about the health of my children - our children," Gonzalez said. "My kids go to school every day in a building that could make it harder for them to learn and make them sick. I'm furious that the [city Education Department] knows this and has done nothing."

Tests of nine public school buildings last year revealed high levels of PCBs at six of them. The highest levels were found at Manhattan's PS 199, measured at 225,000 parts per million.

Anything with more than 50 ppm of PCBs is considered toxic waste under federal law.

Following The News' report last April, the Education Department scrubbed the contaminated schools, but never removed the caulking as required by law. The lawsuit by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest seeks to force the department to remove any caulk with PCB levels of 50 ppm or higher.

The schools tested by The News were built before PCBs were banned, when the caulking was commonly used in construction. More than 200 city school buildings are at risk of being contaminated.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency scientists briefed the agency's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee this month on the dangers of leaving PCB caulking in schools.

The dust can lead to developmental problems, and public health experts say it can affect growing children at much smaller doses than previously thought.

Even though the city is technically liable for up to $1 million a week in fines, the EPA has not cracked down. Agency officials met with city officials about the problem last summer but did not reveal the outcome of the meeting.

The Education Department maintains PCB caulk poses no threat to students. The city declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Bronx Mother to sue over toxic caulk in NYC schools
Formal notice charges Department of Education, School Construction Authority,
and Environmental Protection Agency with dangerous inaction on hazardous PCBs
New York, NY, March 26, 2009 – Today at 5:30 p.m. at the headquarters of the NYC Department of Education (DOE) (52 Chambers Street), Naomi Gonzalez, a teacher’s aide, and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) will announce the filing of a formal notice of intent to sue the DOE and the School Construction Authority (SCA). Ms. Gonzalez’s children Devin (11) and Emelina (6) and other NYC parents will also attend.
The suit will allege that PS 178, the school attended by Devin and Emelina, contains window caulking that is severely contaminated with poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in violation of federal law. The DOE and SCA have misrepresented the risks associated with toxic caulk and to date they and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have neglected to take action to rid the school of PCBs, forcing Ms. Gonzalez to file the notice of intent to sue.
“The Department of Education and the School Construction Authority have abdicated their responsibility to the parents and children of this city to provide a safe learning environment and to be clear and candid about the serious risks posed by PCB-contaminated caulk,” said Miranda Massie, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Justice program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We hope that with the new Administration and this notice, the EPA will end its dangerous passivity on this issue. If not, we will bring suit to enforce the law ourselves.”
A state-certified laboratory found that a caulk sample from PS 178 contained over 100,000 parts per million (ppm) PCBs – more than 2,000 times the 50 ppm limit above which the EPA has determined that PCBs categorically “present an unreasonable risk of injury to health within the United States.” A pending state bill would mandate PCB testing in NYC schools, and New York City parents and the City Council have called on the DOE and SCA to test the caulk in window frames, door frames and expansion joints of potentially contaminated city schools and to remove contaminated caulk. However, no action has been taken by either agency.
“This is about the health of my children, our children. My kids go to school every day in a building that could make it harder for them to learn and make them sick. I’m furious that the DOE knows this and has done nothing. I shouldn’t be afraid to send my children to school,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who lives with Devin, Emelina, and her husband in Co-op City.
“It is outrageous that schools in New York have not taken necessary precautions to prevent student exposure to PCBs,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan). "Despite repeated requests for comprehensive testing, DOE and DHMH have refused to address this issue at all potential contamination sites. My legislation will require school districts to investigate and report on the status of PCBs in schools constructed or renovated prior to 1977. It will also require schools to follow published protocols for addressing PCBs during school renovations. It is my sincere hope that this issue can be resolved quickly in order to protect children from further exposure to these dangerous toxins.”
PCBs are severely poisonous. They threaten the integrity of major body systems, including the immune system, the endocrine system, and the neurological system, and they are considered a probable human carcinogen. PCBs are developmental toxins that disproportionately affect children. PCBs in caulk volatilize into air and migrate into soil, brick, and mortar, exposing children and employees to significant health risks
PCBs were banned in 1978 by Congress in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law is to be enforced by the EPA, which promulgated regulations for the management and disposal of PCBs. .
Under the Bloomberg Administration there has been a centralization of power for making and implementing education policy. In 2002, changes in the school governance law gave the Mayor the authority to appoint all three Trustees of the SCA, including the School's Chancellor who serves as the SCA Chair, and the management of the Department of Education's Capital Program was consolidated under one agency, the SCA. Opponents of Mayoral Control allege that the consolidation of power has frozen out independent neighborhood voices like Naomi Gonzalez’s and stymied efforts of parents to provide feedback in their children’s school environment forcing them into the court system.

About New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) is a nonprofit civil rights law firm that works with communities to advocate for social justice through community organizing, litigation, policy advocacy and public education. NYLPI’s Environmental Justice program works with communities currently and potentially impacted by environmental harms such as toxic sites, environmentally unsafe schools and other noxious facilities to address threats to their health and safety and advocate for positive development. NYLPI also has expertise in health justice, and disability rights as well as coordinating an expansive network of volunteers from New York’s top law firms and corporate legal departments to provide pro bono legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and individuals in need.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

COBRA Premium Subsidy and Advice For Employers by Lorisa D. LaRocca, Esq.

COBRA Premium Subsidy – Employers Must Take Action
By Lorisa D. LaRocca, Esq.

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed his economic stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the "Act"), into law. However, what you may not know is that the Act significantly modifies the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 ("COBRA") so as to provide a 65% government subsidy toward payment of COBRA premiums for certain employees, for up to nine months. Perhaps most importantly, the subsidy must be initially paid by employers who can then recoup these payments from the government as a credit against its federal payroll tax liabilities. In addition, employers are required to notify all affected individuals of their right to receive the subsidy, including all individuals involuntarily terminated from September 1, 2008 forward and in some cases, their dependents.

Given that the law became effective at the time of its signing, immediate action is likely required on your part to comply with the Act's requirements. Below are details that outline the specifics of the Act and prove some suggestions as to the steps you should take to comply. If you have any questions regarding this information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

COBRA Premium Subsidy

What is the subsidy?

The Act provides for a COBRA premium subsidy, whereby the federal government will pay sixty-five percent (65%) of the cost of a qualified beneficiary's COBRA premium if the qualified beneficiary:

i. experiences a qualifying event that is an involuntary termination during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009;

ii. elects COBRA coverage; and

iii. pays thirty-five percent (35%) of the COBRA premium.

The employer must then pay the remaining sixty-five percent (65%) of the COBRA premium and will receive a credit for this amount against its federal payroll tax liabilities. If the amount of the credit exceeds the amount of payroll taxes owed, the Act provides that the Treasury Secretary will pay the excess directly to the employer.

With regard to the requirement that a qualified beneficiary be "involuntarily terminated" in order to be eligible for the subsidy, the term "involuntarily terminated" was not defined by the Act. However, it is clear that the termination must not be for gross misconduct. Layoffs or plant closings will qualify but it remains unclear whether an employee who takes advantage of a voluntary exit incentive program will qualify.

How is the subsidy calculated?

The thirty-five percent (35%) premium payment that the qualified beneficiary must make and the sixty-five percent (65%) premium subsidy are based on the COBRA premium that the qualified beneficiary is otherwise required to pay. For example, if an employer had already agreed to pay 10% of the total COBRA premium as part of a severance agreement, the employee will need to pay only 35% of 90% of the total COBRA premium, and the employer will receive a payroll tax credit for only 65% of 90% of the total COBRA premium. The employer would not be entitled to a payroll tax credit for the 10% of the premium that the employer was otherwise obligated to pay under the severance agreement.

How does the Act affect state Mini-COBRA Provisions?

The COBRA premium subsidy will also apply to health care continuation coverage provided by state and federal governments, or mandated by state law for group health plans with fewer than 20 employees. Accordingly, the subsidy applies to New York employers who employ between 2 and 19 employees and are covered by New York’s mini-COBRA regulation.

Are there any exceptions to the Act?

First, subsidies are not applied to payments for coverage under a health flexible spending account offered under a "cafeteria plan" (i.e., Section 125 plan).

Second, the Act conditions an individual's entitlement to the subsidy on an income threshold (per taxable year). Individuals whose income is $125,000 (or $250,000 for joint filers) are not eligible for the subsidy. If an individual's modified adjusted gross income for the taxable year in which the subsidy is received exceeds $145,000 ($290,000 for joint filers), then the amount of the premium subsidy that was provided to the individual, the individual's spouse or the taxpayer's dependents for all months during such taxable year must be repaid.

For taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income between $125,000 and $145,000 (or $250,000 and $290,000 for joint filers), the amount of the premium subsidy for the taxable year that must be repaid is reduced proportionately. The repayments are captured on the individual's federal income tax return. However, the Act allows each individual to make a permanent election to waive the right to the premium subsidy for all periods of coverage, thereby allowing any individual who is certain that he or she will surpass the income threshold to avoid being subject to the recapture tax. The income threshold applies on a per-taxable year basis.

When is the effective date of the Act?

The subsidy is effective for the first period of coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009. Therefore, for employers who bill COBRA premiums on a monthly basis, the subsidy will commence March 1, 2009.

However, the Act provides a grace period for employers and plan administrators who are unable to modify their March or April COBRA bills in time to reflect the subsidy. The grace period allows the employer or plan administrator to charge the qualified beneficiary for the full COBRA premium for two billing periods following February 17, 2009. However, the employer must then either reimburse the qualified beneficiary for the amount equal to the subsidy or credit the qualified beneficiary for the amount of the subsidy toward future COBRA premium payments.

If the employer plans to credit a qualified beneficiary for their March or April payments, the employer must reasonably believe that the credit will be used by the qualified beneficiary within one hundred eighty (180) days of the date on which the employer or the plan administrator received the payment of the full COBRA premium amount from the qualified beneficiary.

When does the subsidy end?

The COBRA premium subsidy will end on the earliest of the following dates:

i. nine (9) months after the first day that the individual became eligible for the subsidy;

ii. the date the individual becomes eligible for coverage under any other group health plan** (other than coverage consisting of only dental, vision, counseling or referral services, or a combination thereof), coverage under a flexible spending arrangement or coverage of treatment that is furnished in an on-site medical facility maintained by the employer that consists primarily of first-aid services, prevention and wellness care, or similar care (or a combination thereof);

iii. the date the individual is eligible for Medicare;

iv. the date following the expiration of the maximum period of continuation coverage required under the applicable COBRA continuation coverage provision; or

v. the date following the expiration of the period of continuation coverage elected pursuant to the special COBRA election opportunity (as discussed herein).

**An individual must notify the plan of a loss of COBRA entitlement due to eligibility for other health plan coverage. Failure to do so will result in a penalty imposed on the individual equal to 110% of the improperly paid subsidy amount.

What if the employer offers alternative coverage following involuntary termination?

The Act does not address whether the subsidy will still apply if an employer offers alternative coverage independent from COBRA, following involuntary termination. For example, if an individual is involuntarily terminated on December 1, 2009 and the employer provides for a 6-month period of non-COBRA continued coverage and the COBRA coverage does not begin until the employer-provided coverage expires (i.e., on June 1, 2010), it is unclear whether the COBRA premium subsidy will still apply for nine months (i.e., through February 28, 2011), assuming that the other subsidy termination events listed above do not occur earlier. It is likely that this will be addressed by the Department of Labor or the Legislature at a later date.

What is the “Special COBRA Election”?

The Act also provides that qualified beneficiaries who would otherwise be eligible for the COBRA premium subsidy but who did not elect COBRA continuation coverage prior to February 17, 2009, will have an additional opportunity to elect COBRA. This “Special COBRA Election” period began on February 17, 2009 and ends sixty (60) days after notice is provided to the qualified beneficiary of this Special Election opportunity. Coverage elected pursuant to this election right begins on March 1, 2009 and ends no later than the date that the original maximum COBRA continuation coverage period would have expired. For example, if an individual who was involuntarily terminated from employment on October 1, 2008, but did not elect COBRA continuation coverage, and such individual is otherwise eligible for the COBRA premium subsidy, the individual would have sixty (60) days after notification of this special COBRA election opportunity to elect COBRA coverage and receive the subsidy. If the individual makes the election, the coverage would begin March 1, 2009 and end no later than the maximum required COBRA continuation period (18 or 36 months) after October 1, 2008. This Special Election right is also available to a qualified beneficiary who elected COBRA coverage but who is no longer enrolled on the date of enactment because, for example, the beneficiary was unable to continue paying the premiums.

By what date must employers provide notice of the Act to affected employees?

In addition to their standard COBRA notices, employers must inform COBRA eligible individuals about their new COBRA rights under the Act by April 18, 2009. The new information must be provided to any individual who becomes a qualified beneficiary-not just to individuals who were involuntarily terminated- during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009. Employers must also send new COBRA notices to individuals who are entitled to the Special COBRA Election opportunity describing those individuals' rights. The Secretary of Labor is scheduled to provide model notices by March 19, 2009 but, in the event that such model notices are not issued in a timely manner, the April 18, 2009 deadline for employers still applies so it is critical that affected employers immediately begin drafting such notices.

How do employers go about receiving their subsidy credit?

To claim the payroll tax credit, employers must file a report that includes an attestation of the involuntary termination, a report of the payroll tax credits for the current period and the estimated credits for any subsequent period, the taxpayer identification numbers of the terminated employees, the amount of the subsidy reimbursed with respect to each qualified beneficiary, and information as to whether the subsidy provided was for one or more qualified beneficiaries.

What should employers do now?

Given the relatively short deadline for employer compliance with the Act, employers should take several immediate steps:

Identify individuals eligible for COBRA who were terminated on an involuntary basis on or after September 1, 2008, as well as the qualifying dependents of these individuals;

Begin drafting new and/or revised COBRA notices and notify all affected individuals of their new COBRA rights under the Act;

Update COBRA premium payment methods to take into account the employer’s payment for the sixty-five percent (65%) share of the COBRA premium;

Revise payroll systems and other procedures so that the employer will be ready to obtain reimbursement from the federal government without delay; and

Develop any procedures necessary to determine when the premium subsidy ends for each affected individual and to reinstate the full COBRA premium charge with respect to such individual.
Please feel free to contact any member of the Woods Oviatt Labor & Employment Practice Group with questions:

Gordon S. Dickens, Esq., Chair
(585) 987-2851

William G. Bauer, Esq.
(585) 987-2811

Greta K. Kolcon, Esq.
(585) 987-2812

Andrew J. Ryan, Esq.
(585) 987-2809

Lorisa D. LaRocca, Esq.
(585) 987-2834

Monday, March 23, 2009

Teacher Chance Nalley Invites All His Students to His Commitment Ceremony

I applaud Mr. Nalley for openly announcing his commitment to another man.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter

March 23, 2009
Big City
Most of the Seventh Grade Will Be at the Commitment Ceremony

Sometimes the best news is that a story makes no news.

In the fall of 2008, the supporters of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative meant to ban gay marriage in the state of California, fell on a lucky break: video of first graders whose class parents had arranged for them a trip to city hall, where they celebrated their female teacher’s marriage to another woman, a ceremony over which the mayor of San Francisco presided. Gay-marriage opponents cried indoctrination, and the ensuing controversy provoked so much outrage that it has been considered important in squashing opposition to the ban. (The California Supreme Court is currently weighing the constitutionality of the proposition.)

In Harlem a week ago, a 32-year-old math teacher handed out slips of paper inviting the entire seventh grade of Columbia Secondary School to his upcoming ceremony, where, the names on the invitation made clear, he’d be celebrating his commitment to another man. The teacher, Chance Nalley, (pictured above) rarely wastes an instructional opportunity but said that, in this particular instance, he wasn’t trying to make an educational statement.

“They kept asking if they were invited,” he said of his students at Columbia, a selective public school that specializes in math, science and engineering. “Originally, I said no. But when I found a venue that turned out to be big enough I said, ‘O.K., you can come.’ I invited their parents, too.”

A famously strict teacher — his boss says he is regarded by students with a mixture of “love and fear” — Mr. Nalley kept his sexual orientation to himself at the previous public school where he taught, the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx. “They respected my authority, and I’d have hated for their prejudices to interfere with my working relationship with them,” he explained.

But Columbia Secondary, which operates in a partnership between the Department of Education and Columbia University, is a much smaller school, whose mission statement includes a commitment to diversity (more than half the students are black or Hispanic, 45 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches).

With his principal’s support, Mr. Nalley, who started at the school when it opened in 2007, felt comfortable coming out to students during a diversity workshop that fall.

“A lot of the students were shocked at the time,” said the principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, (pictured below) “shocked that he said it, and shocked that it was true. For many students, it was a huge eye-opener — it was the last thing they would have thought about Chance.”

Two parents told the principal that they didn’t want Mr. Nalley teaching their children. Dr. Maldonado-Rivera explained that since the school had only one math teacher at the time, if they wanted their children to take math, they didn’t have a choice. The children stayed, and since then, neither Dr. Maldonado-Rivera nor Mr. Nalley has heard a word from them.

More recently, two other parents sent e-mail messages to Dr. Maldonado-Rivera to complain about Mr. Nalley’s invitation. Dr. Maldonado-Rivera explained to them that he saw the school as an extended family and that the invitation was in that spirit. And that was the end of the controversy, such as it was.

There have, however, been some questions. One student asked about the legality of two men marrying. Mr. Nalley explained that New York State does not, in fact, allow it, but that he was thinking of the ceremony as a wedding celebration, if not a legal contract. When another student asked why gay marriage was not legal in New York, Mr. Nalley responded, “I really don’t know.”

He is expecting about two-thirds of the school’s 96 seventh graders at the ceremony, on April 4 at St. Paul’s Chapel on Columbia University’s campus (he had to hire an extra security guard because so many children were coming). Four seventh graders, approached at random on Friday, said they planned to be there.

Were they surprised to learn he was gay?

“He’s not gay,” said Japhet Guzman, 12.

“No,” agreed a lanky 13-year-old who walked with a bit of a tough-guy swagger, “he’s not gay. He’s bisexual. Why don’t you ask him?” (Mr. Nalley confirmed this.)

Within hours of that diversity workshop last fall, the kids said, the whole school had heard the news about Mr. Nalley.

“I was really surprised,” recalled the 13-year old boy. “It didn’t change anything about what we thought about him, though.”

Raven Franklyn, another student, added, “It showed he trusts us.”

And they apparently trust him: Mr. Nalley said six students have come out to him this year.

Every once in a while, Mr. Nalley does catch an earful of the homophobia that’s obviously rampant in seventh-grade boys trying to prove their machismo. For example, he said, seventh grade is the age when kids start saying everything is “so gay.”

“When I hear that, I just say to them, ‘What exactly do you mean by that?’ ” said Mr. Nalley.

After that, he doesn’t hear it again.


2008: Math Citation
A Global Take on Mathematics
Chance Nalley brings an international flair to the classroom


Middle school students are notorious for their short attention spans—a trait science teacher Chance Nalley is lucky to share.

“I have an attention span about the same as a small child, so if I’m not interested, I don’t expect kids to be interested,” Nalley said. “I make sure I’m interested in the material and the kids are interested by default. I always think about if I were in that seat, how I would want to learn.”

Nalley, who teaches 6th grade at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, has booked some mileage trying to figure out how kids learn best. Traveling the world in a comparative analysis of education, Nalley has made trips to Cambodia, Mexico, Russia, Singapore and Vietnam to understand the differences in mathematics education across the globe and find ways to integrate international techniques into his own teaching.

“Every time I go on one of these trips, I sift through the things that I see and determine what we can use and what we can’t,” he said.

As a founding member of the math department at the start-up school, Nalley has the freedom to implement his ideas immediately, so his teaching style is a cultural hybrid. His curriculum focuses not on grades, but rather on mastering individual skills—163 of them, to be exact—which he has identified as the necessary precursors to the study of algebra. Each student is given a checklist and must check a box each time they build up proficiency in one of the building-block skills.

“It keeps the kids enthusiastic to really be able to measure their learning,” Nalley said.

“For the kids, it’s not about a grade—I have to give them grades—but their learning is about how many of those skills they have mastered.”

Aside from his impressive record of research and a laundry list of awards, parents and students agree that Nalley’s most impressive feat is making the classroom fun, day after day.

“They’re in 6th grade doing 7th grade math and they really understand it,” said parent Candy Gulko. “I think it’s because this is his life’s work. He keeps the class mesmerized. These kids are glued to the edge of their seats, listening to him the way they would be watching a movie.”

Nalley’s students often stay after class or come in before school to show him that they are ready to check a new box, and the teacher is eager to spend the extra time with them.

“He has an incredible dedication to middle school children,” Gulko said. “He really understands them developmentally. He understands what makes them tick. And he bends over backward to motivate them.”
Nalley’s short attention span has led him to jobs in construction and engineering, so he has plenty of experience to enrich his lessons.

“I’m a real-life context person,” he said. “I don’t like the contrived problems that books come up with, so we talk about where things really do apply.”

— Carolyn Braff

Prof. Nalley Rakes in Two Prestigious Teaching Awards!
It is with great pleasure and much pride that we announce that Prof. Chance Nalley, CSS-MSE Professor of Math-Coordinator of Afterschool Programs, and 7th grade Faculty Team Leader, has won the Math for America - Master Teacher award as well as the 2008 Blackboard Outstanding Math Teacher Award!

The Master Teacher award is one of the most highly sought after in the nation, as it comes with a 4 year supplementary stipend worth $57,500, to support the selected teacher's commitment to teaching in urban schools. Prof. Nalley intends to use the stipend to support the completion of his PhD in Math Education at our partner institution,Teachers College-Columbia University.

The United States suffers from a serious shortage of quality math and science teachers and this is affecting our nation's ability to train future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. At CSS-MSE we are honored to have been able to attract a stellar core faculty Professors Dominguez, Hill, Jones, Cota, Thompson, and Stillman. Prof. Nalley's MfA award recognizes the excellence and passion for teaching that make Columbia Secondary an extraordinary place of learning.

The Blackbloard Award recognizes "fantastic teaching" in New York City. The Blackboard Awardees are nominated by students, parents or teachers and a panel of judges makes the final selection. We are proud of Professor Nalley's work, and ask that you join us in congratulating him!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The "Gotcha Squad" and the New York City Rubber Rooms

Joel Klein
The New York City Rubber Room Anti-Teacher Charging Process Shows How Corrupt the Carmen Farina-Bill De Blasio Department of Education Really Is. by Betsy Combier

Dennis Walcott

How The New York City "Gotcha Squad" Gets Tenured Teachers Declared "Incompetent", and Placed in a Rubber Room by Betsy Combier

The Administrative Trials Unit (ATU) has hired a team of lawyers who work in a new ATU subgroup called "Teacher Performance Unit". In the Office of Legal Services' newsletter  "On The Legal Side" from 2000 you can read about the people involved. On page 4 you will find a picture of Theresa Europe, the current Director of the ATU. Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, calls them the "Teacher Gotcha Squad". The use of TAC (Technical Assistance Conference) memos (the Office of Labor Relations has a 2007 version of the Principal's 'How To Get Rid Of A Teacher" Manual) in the preparation of charges to prefer against allegedly incompetent teachers was published in 2004, as Labor FAQs from the Office of Labor Relations. The New York State School Boards Association has published a report with recommendations to reform this expensive process.

Carmen Farina

We all must defend our right to know who is saying what to whom. In New York City today, however, the NYC BOE's secret disciplinary process is unfair and this process of pursuing false claims as fact must be changed. The word "incompetency" cannot be arbitrarily given to anyone at the whim of a principal, it must be applied according to a set standard so there can be a pre-determined penalty for the level of "misconduct" now labelled as "unsatisfactory performance". Otherwise, there is mayhem, terror, and chaos.

Mecca Santana

A partner office, OEO, is also a problem. Teachers are going to the "new" Office of Equal Opportunity to resolve issues of whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, and other such complaints, but OEO is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New York City Department of Education and is not neutral in it's determination of probable cause.OEO's new Director, Mecca Santana (pictured above), denies complaints without explanation, siding with the NYC DOE on every issue.
In New York City, tenured teachers are being removed from their classrooms and positions by Principals and administrators suddenly and, in many cases, without probable cause. In fact, the entire structure of the New York City Department/Board of Education is intertwined with the General Counsel and the lawyers working in the Office of Legal Services. It's hard to separate the two, and this is one of the biggest problems with Mayoral control as it now stands in New York City. The New York City Board of Education ("NYC BOE") keeps all documents and information secret under the description "Attorney Client Privilege".

The entire process is fueled, edited, created, guided, and managed, by the lawyers at the Office of General Counsel, or the group that I call "The Gotcha Squad". A peek into this highly secret world wherein a person is framed and set up to be terminated can be seen in the documents of a teacher in Staten Island, found in his file. He has given me permission to use these documents as they are so explosive, and show the fraud that is known as charging teachers in NYC. A principal, here James McKeon, supposedly finds "Just Cause" when indeed it is not his finding at all, but that of the attorneys at 51 Chambers Street, the Gotcha Squad. See on p. 4 that McKeon is NOT supposed to discuss any of the making up of the charges by Theresa Europe and her crew.
 The end result of the secret exchanges can be seen by clicking this sentence.
The reason for Joel Klein's lack of contract as Chancellor (See my article "The Who Are You Kidding?? Award Goes To: Joel Klein, New York City Board of Education Pretender") is to pursue secrecy within the NYC BOE by establishing him as the Attorney for the NYC BOE, not the Chancellor. Thus he has the ability to refrain from handing over documents if he deems these papers "Attorney Client Work Product" (see here as well). Federal laws take second place to secrecy. Also, the Corporation Counsel prevents any Plaintiffs from deposing Joel Klein if he is sued officially and individually on the grounds that he is the Attorney for the Board of Education.

It is obvious that the Mayor has total control over every part of the public school governance structure. A tenured teacher has no rights at all, and can be removed as easily as a non-tenured teacher or any employee. The tenured teachers have holding pens called temporary re-assignment centers or "rubber rooms". There are currently 7 such places located throughout New York City. A teacher may end up re-assigned because a principal may decide that he/she doesnt like him/her, must remove a him/her because he/she is talking about crimes being committed in the school, or must remove a him/her because he/she is earning a salary that is very high due to more than 20 years in the system, etc. The real reason may be that the teacher is too old, too fat, too short, wears red, doesn't wear red, and other such nonsense.

The principal makes the decision who stays and who goes, and this decision-making is done secretly with emails to/from the principal and the TPU, and the teacher being placed on the ineligible/inquiry list. To start, read the letter sent by Florrie Chapin, Director of the Teacher Performance Unit. You can see that a Principal is the driving force behind a teacher's termination, and the documentation that the TPU gets is based upon what the Principal sends to the Unit. Ask yourself this question: if a teacher has received commendations and satisfactory ratings, what is there in the process that could stop a Principal from discarding these positive reviews, or simply not sending them to a TPU attorney? Records tampering is rampant throughout the NYC DOE.
freedom of information request was filed to obtain the TAC memos that were emailed to/from the TPU lawyers, Elizabeth "Betsy" Arons (NOT me) and Florie Chapin, Director of the TPU, and received 79 pages of emails as well as the names of the TPU lawyers (the "Gotcha Squad") was received .  The way the process works is this: after a principal requests a TAC, the charges are prepared, and the teacher is declared "incompetent" without his/her knowing anything about it. The TAC is considered privileged information and the teacher, about whom the TAC is about, will not be able to obtain these memos.

Tenured teachers who have been given more than one U (unsatisfactory) rating and have not "improved" according to random standards of the administration, are declared incompetent, and then they become the focus of the Teacher Performance Unit or TPU. The TPU is a group of lawyers who work in the Administrative Trials Unit (ATU) of the New York City Board of Education.

The ATU is described below on the NYC BOE website:

The Administrative Trials Unit is responsible for the prosecution of disciplinary cases.

ATU is available for trainings and advice on how to discipline a tenured employee or permanent civil servant and also to review documentation as it relates to the discipline process. If appropriate, ATU may draft charges under Education Law, Section 3020-a or Section 75 of the Civil Service Law against the subject employee. This process entails a joint effort by the principal and/or supervisor along with the ATU attorney to litigate a case against the employee either for the purposes of progressive discipline or to seek the employee's termination. Should you seek charges, you must schedule a Technical Assistance Conference (TAC) with ATU for a complete review of the employee's personnel file and any related discussions.

Theresa Europe , Director
(212) 374-6749

Patria Frias-Colon , Deputy Director
(212) 374-6754
Patria, (pictured above) originally from the Dominican Republic, is a proud wife and mother of three children. Patria serves as the Assistant Deputy Counsel to the Chancellor at the New York City Department of Education, an organization that services 1.1 million children. She holds a Bachelors Degree from the University of Rochester and a Law Degree from Hofstra University. In addition to working for City government, Patria is also an adjunct professor at St. John's University School of Education where she teaches a course on the legal aspects of school administration.

want to work there? Here is the personnel ad:

Teacher Performance Unit Litigation Attorney
Tracking Code 6036
Job Description

Position Summary: Under the direction of the Office of the General Counsel, with wide latitude for independent action, the Teacher Performance Unit Litigation Attorney serves as a legal representative of the Chancellor, performing sophisticated legal work on disciplinary matters under the Children First reforms and providing training and counsel to school leaders. This team of attorneys will be assigned to handle special disciplinary proceedings as part of a teacher quality initiative and will have the opportunity to work on key policy initiatives in conjunction with the Office of Labor Policy.

Reports to: Executive Deputy Counsel


* Handles legal issues and cases including recommendations concerning determining the soundness of charges, preparing specification of charges, coordinating the gathering of evidence, and briefing witnesses.
* Manages legal cases that are complex and high-profile in nature.
* Represents the New York City Department in Education on Law 3020a proceedings and hearings pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law.
* As part of a team of attorneys, helps devise strategies for providing improved support and training to school leaders around evaluation and discipline, and for spurring the improvement or removal of poor performers.
* Provides support to school leaders, counsel and training to Superintendents, Principals, and their designees on disciplinary procedures with an emphasis on documenting incompetence and poor performance.
* Acts as liaison to executives within the Department and to members of other City agencies.


Minimum Requirements

Admission to the New York State Bar AND three (3) years of progressively responsible United Sates legal experience subsequent to admission to any state bar.

NOTE: Selected candidates must remain members of the New York State Bar in good standing for the duration of their employment.


* Litigation experience.
* Excellent research, analytic and communication skills.
* Ability to rapidly understand provisions of applicable law and regulations.
* Ability to write clearly and concisely.

Salary: $75,962+

Resumes will be reviewed on an ongoing basis. We encourage applicants to apply as soon as possible. Applicants must submit a cover letter and resume to be considered for this position.

NOTE: The filling of all positions is subject to budget availability.

The New York City Board of Education (NYC BOE) has this description on the website:

Teacher Performance Unit

This letter and the accompanying materials are to familiarize you with the New York City Department of Education’s new Teacher Performance and Labor Support Units.

The Teacher Performance Unit(“TPU”) is a new unit comprised of experienced attorneys who will litigate incompetence cases against ineffective tenured pedagogues. This unit will provide counsel to principals and other school officials in connection with the preparation and litigation of 3020-a disciplinary charges involving allegations of incompetence. (See LEXIS/NEXUS for a detailed overview). TPU’s goal is to help principals improve teacher quality in their schools by bringing and litigating these cases in a thorough, expeditious and effective manner.

The Labor Support Unit (“LSU”) is comprised of education consultants who will work in partnership with TPU to provide direct support to principals who are confronted with ineffective tenured pedagogues. The goal of LSU is to work with the principal to help them design support plans for ineffective tenured pedagogues, to provide guidance and general assistance to the principal; to assist the principal in organizing the documentation; to conduct additional observations upon request of the principal; and to coordinate with the Peer Intervention-Plus (PIP+) Program and Teacher Performance Unit.

To greater assist your understanding of the process I have included a brief summary of TPU’s procedures and policies:

First, if you wish to discuss the case either formally or informally with a representative of TPU, please contact the Teacher Performance Unit at the Office of the General Counsel. To schedule a Technical Assistance Conference (“TAC” or “case conference”) please submit, by fax or email a completed TAC request form. (The TAC Request Form is included in this packet of supporting documents.)

Once a TAC has been scheduled, the principal or another school official should submit to TPU a completed TPU principal checklist (also included in the packet) along with the requested supporting documentation. To expedite the process, please ensure all the documentation has been forwarded to TPU prior to the date of the case conference. The pedagogue’s entire personnel file, all rating sheets (including any which document satisfactory ratings), along with the accompanying letters to the file, and the observation reports to support the unsatisfactory rating are key pieces of evidence. In addition, all the materials demonstrating the Department’s efforts at remediation and offers of professional development should be included in the packet (a sample is included in the packet).

During the case conference, the TPU Director and staff attorneys will meet with the principal to discuss the relevant documentation, and provide advice and guidance. After the case has been carefully reviewed a determination will be made by TPU in consultation with the principal whether to commence the 3020-a process at that time. If TPU decides to accept the case a letter will be sent to the principal indicating that the tenured pedagogue will be charged. At such time, TPU will recommend that the teacher be removed from the classroom and assigned to administrative duties. If a principal requests that a pedagogue be removed for incompetence prior to a TAC with TPU, that request must be approved by the TPU Director, and such requests will be reviewed on an expedited basis.

Alternatively, if a determination is made that the case should not proceed forward, a letter will be sent to the principal indicating the reasons and advising the principal on what action should be taken next. In such instances, TPU and LSU will continue to offer high quality and responsive support to the principal, which will include providing ineffective tenured teachers with quality professional development.

On behalf of TPU, I look forward to working with each of you in the future. Should you have any questions about the materials provided in this packet, the TAC process, or if you have other questions, please feel free to contact me. Sincerely,
Florrie Chapin
Director, Teacher Performance Unit

A New Effort to Remove Bad Teachers

The Bloomberg administration is beginning a drive to remove unsatisfactory teachers, hiring new teams of lawyers and consultants who will help principals build cases against tenured teachers who they believe are not up to the job. It is also urging principals to get rid of sub-par novices before they earn tenure.

At the center of the effort is a new Teacher Performance Unit of five lawyers, headed by a former prosecutor fresh from convicting a former private school principal who had a sexual relationship with a student.

A separate team of five consultants, including former principals, will work with principals to improve struggling teachers’ performance. In cases where the teachers fail to get better, the consultants will help amass the documentation necessary to oust them.

The plans, at a cost of $1 million a year, are described in a memo and an accompanying letter to principals from Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In the letter, he urged principals to help teachers improve but added, “When action must be taken, the disciplinary system for tenured teachers is so time-consuming and burdensome that what is already a stressful task becomes so onerous that relatively few principals are willing to tackle it. As a result, in a typical year only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of tenured teachers are removed for ineffective performance.

“This issue simply must be tackled,” he wrote.

In the memo, Dan Weisberg, the Education Department’s chief executive for labor policy and implementation, wrote that the Teacher Performance Unit “represents a significant infusion of resources that will ensure we have the capacity to seek the removal of all ineffective tenured teachers who, in spite of receiving the time and support sufficient to allow them to substantially improve, won’t or can’t do it.”

The unit, Mr. Weisberg wrote, “will also allow us to seek discipline where appropriate in a wider range of cases than before.” The unit is being run by Florence Chapin, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the city’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, called the lawyers a “teacher gotcha unit” and said she found it “disgusting” that the Education Department would issue such a memo after the release of new school report cards that bluntly grade schools A through F.

“We’ve always been concerned that the first thing that would happen after somebody put out progress reports would be principals would go after teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “Basically, it’s signaling to principals that rather than working to support teachers, the school system is going to give you a way to try to get rid of teachers.”

New York City has roughly 80,000 public school teachers, and once they receive tenure it is notoriously difficult to remove them, because of the union contract and state labor law, which guards the rights of tenured public employees with an elaborate process of hearings and appeals.

Only about 10 to 15 tenured teachers a year leave the system after being charged with incompetence. Other teachers are removed for outright misconduct.

More than 700 school employees, mostly teachers, are now assigned to centers known as “rubber rooms,” after having been removed from the classroom. While school officials say those employees are under investigation or at some stage in the disciplinary process, teachers’ union officials say that many have had no charges filed against them.

Mr. Klein has long spoken out against three poles of the civil service system for teachers — seniority rights, lifetime tenure and lock-step pay.

The city and Ms. Weingarten recently agreed on a plan to reward teachers for outstanding performance by allowing successful schools to compete for bonuses that would allow them to dole out extra pay to teachers.

The push to remove bad teachers represents the flip side of the equation and comes as the city is less than a year into an effort to get principals to more rigorously review probationary teachers who are up for tenure.

Mr. Weisberg said in an interview that he did not know how many tenured teachers would be removed. He said there “probably will be an increase” in incompetence charges.

“I believe very strongly that the number of these struggling tenured teachers is very small compared to the total number of teachers, but even if it is 1 percent, even if it is half of 1 percent, we have to address it,” he said.

Since the mayor earlier this year announced a more rigorous tenure review process for probationary teachers, the numbers denied tenure at the end of the three-year probationary period has increased modestly.

Since late March, when the new system started, 66 probationary teachers were denied tenure , or 1.3 percent of those eligible. In the previous school year tenure was denied to 25 teachers, or .5 percent of those eligible.

In addition, 115 teachers had their probationary period extended this year, up from 30 in the previous year.

Mr. Weisberg’s memo also described a new program, agreed to by the teachers union, under which principals can call upon teachers from outside the school system to spend three months observing tenured teachers in danger of being disciplined for incompetence.

The memo said that while the outside teachers may help floundering teachers, their written evaluations would also “likely carry a great deal of weight in disciplinary proceedings seeking the teacher’s termination.”

New Monastic Individuals

Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Teacher Performance Unit
By Roger Conway (pictured at left)

Here we go again. Yet again another game plan has been offered to cure the ills of American education, especially urban education. New York City's Bloomberg administration is implementing the the Teacher performance Unit to help principals "build cases against tenured teachers who they believe are not up to the job." This seems like old hash warmed over, but the new ingredient is that they are bringing in "teams" of lawyers and "consultants" (including former principals!) to worm their way around the state and federal work laws so they can "improve" everything. This quantitative approach will also apply to those teachers applying for tenure whose applications languish in bureaucratic limbo, because they, too, have been deemed not ("quite", I guess) "up to the job." And what is the bottom line for this panacea? $1,000,000 per year.

A definition is in order. Here it is from the mule's mouth: The Teacher Performance Unit "represents a significant infusion of resources that will ensure we have the capacity to seek the removal of all ineffective teachers who, in spite of receiving the time and support sufficient to allow them to substantially improve, won't or can't do it." I guess the composer of this statement had trouble with split infinitives and the basics of syntax in middle school English. Or a demon not-up-to-the-job teacher short-changed him or her.

Let's forget all the obvious stuff that's been harangued over forever, like using the system to settle in-house political differences, using it for personal punitive reasons, using it for blackmail, using it against burned out teachers, etc. Let's do something these government administration people have not yet thought about. Let's try to understand the elements of a school's culture that have a direct impact on teacher performance.
1. The culture of the community that the school serves. What are the behavioral norms of the community? What are the community's expectations of the schools responsibilities beyond effective learning of subject matter (such as providing meals, contraceptives, psychological counseling, warehousing of non- and reluctant learners, etc.)?
2. The culture of the school. (This is the one nobody, especially those with degrees in "educational leadership", including "former principals" want to talk about.) What is the learning milieu of the school building? (Sorry, sometimes French is all that will do.) Do the students, teachers and administrators have the same reasons for being there, namely that education is the only important thing that goes on there? Is anything less important ruled out of final decisions? Do teachers understand that each has special value and that that value can be shared uncompromisingly with their colleagues, teachers and administrators alike? Are experiments in teaching techniques encouraged? Are they facilitated financially and structurally? Is each student considered a learner or merely an integer?
3. $1 million for "the removal of ineffective teachers" speaks volumes. Please understand. As both student and teacher, I know about ineffective teachers, But I also know that learning to be effective requires both #1 and #2. I began my career in an inner city system. It offered only negative guidance; do this or else, and don't do that. The following year I went to a suburban school and worked 2 years in a specialized program, which involved me doing the verbal skills academic support of a vocational training program. My job: Get the students to articulate clearly in English. I had free rein to experiment. From there I went to a more exclusive suburb (i.e., more $$$ per family) and worked as part of a team to build a K-12 writing program (the community gave financial and structural support, and it expected competitive learning to occur at all grade levels to get its children into the highest competitive colleges…case closed, any questions?). That experience was inspiring, and the teachers, with full encouragement and support from administrators, gave their full energies to make it work.

The Teacher Performance Unit scheme also includes bonuses to reward schools and to allow them "to dole out" (what a revealing choice of word!) extra pay to teachers. That's the old toss of the bone, so typical of the quantitative approach. And I think bonuses are OK. Once you figure out how to distinguish among good, better and best teachers, you can go ahead and implement them. But first, let's take care of numbers 1, 2 and 3. Use the cool million to deal with the really tough stuff about excellence in learning.

And finally, regarding No Child Left Behind, has anyone figured out where the ones who are not left behind are going? Are they all going to college? The students I had in the vocational ed. program couldn't wait to get into the auto repair and auto body shops. If we're preparing students to be all that they can be, let's remember those students.

The entire ATU/TPU/TAC process infuriated the UFT leadership. The UFT voted to condemn the TPU.

The problem is, of the problems is: what does "incompetence" mean? Who defines whether or not a teacher is, really, "incompetent"? The No Child Left Behind legislation requires that every classroom have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. The problem with this is, what does the term “highly qualified” mean? A person with one or more advanced degrees? What about if this teacher is certified to teach french, but the Principal places him/her in a biology class?

Who is a “good” teacher and who is a “bad” teacher? Anyone with children knows a good teacher from a bad teacher. I have four children and to me, a "good" teacher is a person who makes the curriculum interesting, understandable, and encourages my daughters to seek information about the subject as well as to work hard and do their personal best. 'Good teaching' is always a subjective opinion which can only be judged by someone who sits inside the classroom, and incompetence cannot be proven by one person at an administrative trial nor can it be determined by one person - a principal or AP - in one visit or with an agenda (i.e. to get rid of the teacher).

We have no ‘American standard’ to help us define what it means to be a “good” teacher, other than to record the scores on standardized tests of students in each class. There are thousands of reports on how this happens, but in the end, defining a “good” performance is always a subjective judgment.

The parents of public school children and the teachers of the public schools in NYC know that Mayor Bloomberg and NYC BOE CEO Joel Klein dont want anyone to have any power over educational policy decisions except them, and their people. Read my article "Editorial: The New York City Department of Education is a Sham and Mike Bloomberg is the Flim-Flam Man" So they designed a process which I call the "rubberization" process to remove anyone from his or her job for any reason, at any time. Mr. Klein, not an educator, was brought in to be CEO (he is not chancellor because he has no contract) in order to be the Attorney for the NYC Department of Education and squash any and all efforts to make the DOE transparent or accountable to the public. Teachers who sue Mr. Klein individually and officially never get to depose him because the NY State Supreme Court says that he is the Attorney for the DOE/BOE ( the name New York City Board of Education was never changed legally) and therefore information must be kept confidential between Principals, administrators, and the Corporation Counsel, Office of Legal Services, as well as the ATU.

Thus, the reason for the Technical Assistance Conference or TAC, in which the employee is not involved.

Know your rights
Disciplinary action and false accusations

Feb 19, 2009 10:17 AM

Despite many attempts to undercut it, section 3020-a of the State Education Law provides for due process before a tenured pedagogue can be disciplined, including termination for charges such as incompetence, insubordination, corporal punishment or sexual misconduct.

If the New York City Department of Education serves you with disciplinary charges pursuant to Education Law Section 3020-a, you should immediately contact your UFT borough office. The UFT will assist you in filing the necessary forms and arrange, if you choose, for you to be assigned legal counsel from the New York State United Teachers. A Hearing Officer jointly agreed upon by the UFT and DOE will conduct a hearing. If the hearing officer finds you guilty of any of the charges, discipline can be imposed. The discipline may range from a written reprimand, monetary fine or suspension without pay to the loss of your job. If you are terminated, you will also lose your New York City teaching license(s). However, your permanent state certifications cannot be revoked without another hearing.

In some cases, teachers awaiting charges are removed from their schools and assigned to Temporary Reassignment Centers until the investigations are complete or their cases are adjudicated in a 3020-a proceeding. A recent agreement between the UFT and DOE states that, absent unusual circumstances, allegations being investigated by principals will not result in an employee being removed from his or her school. The agreement also requires that an employee be notified of the grounds for his or her reassignment or that an employee is being investigated by the special commissioner of investigation (SCI). In the agreement, the DOE states that it will diligently attempt to complete all investigations by the chancellor’s Office of Special Investigations within 90 days. Further, you must be formally charged within six months from being reassigned or returned to your school unless you are being investigated by the SCI or your case involves criminal charges. If you are returned to your school after six months, the DOE may still bring disciplinary charges against you.

You are paid while you are reassigned except if you were found guilty or pled guilt to any felony. Also, the DOE can request a special hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence that you engaged in serious misconduct such as any actions that would constitute: 1. a felony involving a controlled substance; 2. a crime involving physical abuse of a student or minor; 3. a felony committed on school property or while performing duties; 4. a felony involving a firearm; or 5. serious sexual misconduct with a student or a minor such as sexual touching, verbal abuse of a sexual nature, solicitation of a relationship and possession of child pornography. If a specially appointed arbitrator determines there is sufficient evidence that you engaged in such conduct, you can be suspended without pay for up to two or three months.

Bring a union representative to any interrogation

If you are summoned for an interview by your principal or another DOE employee that may lead to disciplinary action, you are entitled to be accompanied by a union representative (or a representative employed by the school system). These are called “Weingarten Rights” (no relation to the UFT president). An interview that is not held in accordance with these procedures cannot be made part of your DOE personnel or school file, and any statements you make at such an interview cannot be used against you in any DOE proceeding.

Aside from the principal, the chancellor’s Office of Special Investigations and the special commissioner of investigation regularly seek to interview educators. The allegations investigated by the SCI usually involve potential criminal activity, financial fraud and other serious matters. Sometimes, the chancellor’s Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI) or Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) will ask a member for a statement and, occasionally, even the police will go to a school. Regardless of who has summoned you to appear, the UFT generally recommends that you not answer any questions that could lead to disciplinary or legal action being taken without proper representation. If you are summoned to an investigatory interview, you should immediately ask your chapter leader and UFT district representative for assistance. If you are summoned to OSI, OPI or OEO, your UFT district representative or borough office will provide a representative to attend the interview with you. If you are summoned by SCI, your UFT district representative or borough office will arrange for a criminal attorney to attend the interview with you. If OPI asks for a written statement, your UFT district representative or borough office will arrange for an attorney to assist you in writing it.

Corporal punishment

State Education Department regulations and Chancellor’s Regulation A-420 prohibit the use of physical force against students. Some staffers have been charged with that offense for having physical contact with a student, such as when breaking up a fight. In general, you should attempt to defuse a student altercation by using verbal, rather than physical, means. However, you may use physical force in self-defense or to protect a person or school property. If you are accused of corporal punishment, speak with your chapter leader or district representative immediately and ask for union help.

Many of the allegations of corporal punishment are investigated by the employee’s supervisor. We strongly recommend that you do not speak to the principal and/or any investigator without a union representative present, even if the allegation is false.

False accusations

If you are accused of sexual misconduct or physical abuse involving students and it is determined that the allegations were knowingly false when they were made, the DOE must remove all references to the allegations from your DOE personnel file, restore any lost pay with interest, and permanently reassign the student from your class absent compelling and extraordinary circumstances. The agreement makes clear that the disciplinary process should never be used to retaliate against whistle-blowers or for any other illegal reason. It goes on to state that all employees who make a knowingly false allegation shall be subject to discipline.

Verbal abuse

Chancellor’s regulations prohibit verbal abuse of students, which includes using language that causes fear or physical or mental distress; using language that denotes race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation which tends to cause fear or mental distress; threatening physical harm; or belittling or ridiculing students.

If you are accused of verbal abuse, you should immediately notify your chapter leader or district representative. Consult Chancellor’s Regulation A-421 for additional information. Among other things, the regulation requires your principal to inform the staff about what constitutes verbal abuse. If accusations of verbal abuse are found to be unsubstantiated, all references to the accusations must be removed from your DOE file.