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Friday, March 30, 2012

NYC DOE Bans Words From Standardized Tests - What's NEXT?

The most ridiculous, absurd and nonsensical "policy" I have heard out of the NYC DOE in a very long time:

War On Words: NYC Dept. Of Education Wants 50 ‘Forbidden’ Words Banned From Standardized Tests

'Dinosaur,' 'Birthday,' 'Halloween,' 'Poverty,' 'Divorce' Among Those Suggested

NYC DOE Chief Operating "Officer" Dennis Walcott
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — George Carlin is rolling over in his grave.
The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.
Marla Diamond Talks To Walcott, Student About Banned Words
Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests.
The word “dinosaur” made the hit list because dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like, WCBS 880′s Marla Diamond reported. “Halloween” is targeted because it suggests paganism; a “birthday” might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Julie Lewis’ family celebrates Christmas and Kwanzaa, but she told CBS 2′s Emily Smith she wants her children to appreciate and learn about other holidays and celebrations.
“They’re going to meet people from all walks of life and they’re going to have to learn to adjust,” Lewis said.
Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. “Poverty” is also on the forbidden list. That’s something Sy Fliegal with the Center for Educational Innovation calls ridiculous.
“The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes … so what? You think our kids are going to be offended because they don’t have a Mercedes? You think our kids are going to say ‘I’m offended; how could they ask me a question about a Mercedes? I don’t have a Mercedes!’” Fliegal said.
In a throwback to “Footloose,” the word “dancing” is also taboo. However, there is good news for kids that like “ballet”: The city made an exception for this form of dance.
Also banned are references to “divorce” and “disease,” because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.
Some students think banning these words from periodic assessment tests is ridiculous.
“If you don’t celebrate one thing you might have a friend that does it. So I don’t see why people would find it offensive,” Curtis High School Sophomore Jamella Lewis told Diamond.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE is simply giving guidance to the test developers.
“So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct. This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests,” Walcott said Monday.
To which Fliegal responded: “It’s all of life! I don’t know how they figure out what not to put on the list. Every aspect of life is on the list.”

There are banned words currently in school districts nationwide. Walcott said New York City’s list is longer because its student body is so diverse.
Here is the complete list of words that could be banned:
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Bodily functions
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
Junk food
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Nuclear weapons
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Rap Music
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Implied or Explicit Contracts Limiting An Employer's Right of Discharge

From Attorney Jonathan Cooper:

With the proliferation of employee handbooks and manuals at corporations, a natural question arises: 
To what extent are the protections that are afforded to employees under these manuals actually enforceable?

From the employee's perspective, the answer is not terribly much - at least not under New York law.
Here's why: the majority of these employee manuals also have language explicitly providing that nothing contained therein should be construed as creating anything other than an at-will employment. 

Consequently, even the "Whistleblower" protections provided for in these manuals will often prove to no avail - unless the employee can demonstrate that the policy pre-dated their empolyment at the company, and that they detrimentally relied on that policy in deciding to accept that position (a truly daunting burden of proof).

As an upstate appeals court recently put it:
"It is well settled that, 'absent an agreement establishing a fixed duration, an employment relationship is presumed to be a hiring at will, terminable at any time by either party' (Sabetay v Sterling Drug, 69 NY2d 329, 333 [1987]; see Lobosco v New York Tel. Co./NYNEX, 96 NY2d 312, 316 [2001]; Matter of De Petris v Union Settlement Assn., 86 NY2d 406, 410 [1995]; Murphy v American Home Prods. Corp., 58 NY2d 293, 300-301 [1983]). This presumption may be rebutted by proof establishing that "the employer made the employee aware of its express written policy limiting its right of discharge and that the employee detrimentally relied on that policy in accepting the employment" (Matter of De Petris v Union Settlement Assn., 86 NY2d at 410; see Weiner v McGraw-Hill, Inc., 57 NY2d 458, 465-466 [1982];Fitzgerald v Martin-Marietta, 256 AD2d 959, 960 [1998]; Novinger v Eden Park Health Servs., 167 AD2d 590, 591 [1990], lv denied 77 NY2d 810 [1991]). Notably, "[t]he requirements for such an implied contract of employment have been strictly construed, and the successful plaintiff must sustain an 'explicit and difficult pleading burden'" (Preston v Champion Home Bldrs., 187 AD2d 795, 796-797 [1992], quoting Sabetay v Sterling Drug, 69 NY2d at 334-335; see Matter of LaDuke v Hepburn Med. Ctr., 239 AD2d 750, 753 [1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 802 [1997])."


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Notice of Claim RE: NYC DOE Attorneys Cheryl Smith-Massena and Theresa Europe, Question for NYSUT Attorney Maria Elena Gonzalez

From Betsy Combier, Editor:
Once again, let me describe to you all the actions of NYC DOE Attorney Cheryl Smith-Massena, who claimed, to Arbitrator Stephen O'Beirne, on November 2, 2011, that the 3020-a hearing must be closed to the "public" - meaning me and three other people - because I was a blogger who posted the names of minor children on my blog. O'Beirne not only closed the hearing to the public, but sequestered me and the other observers on another floor when the child came in to testify that day. As if we would assault the student. Never, in 9 years, has a member of the public - me or anyone else - been sequestered in order not to be anywhere near to a student testifying.

As I and all members of the public at 3020-a are not permitted to talk on the record, and as O'Beirne did not ask for my explanation after Ms. Smith-Massena made the accusations against me, I was not able to say whether or not I was indeed guilty as charged. Sound familiar?

So I did what all employees falsely charged or arrested should do, but dont (because no one mentions the General Muicipal Law Section 50-e, the Notice of Claim clause), I filed a Notice of Claim against Cheryl Smith-Massena and Theresa Europe, Dennis Walcott, and the City of New York. My 50-H hearing was January 31, 2012.

Recently I wrote Arbitrator Stephen O'Beirne a letter, asking him to keep all notes that he had on the issue of my posting the names of minor children on my blog. I sent copies to Cheryl Smith-Massena and Maria Elena Gonzalez, Claude Hersh, Theresa Europe, New York State Education Department, the AAA, and several others. By the way, I think that Arbitrator O'Beirne is a very good arbitrator, he listened to the evidence, wrote copious notes and gave an excellent decision in this case. This story is not about him, its about how Maria Elena Gonzalez, Cheryl Smith-Massena, and the "Gotcha Squad" get into attack mode for the actions I have taken to expose the 3020-a arbitration procedures. The fact of the matter is, everything they say and do is, has been, and will continue to be documented because I think something is terribly wrong in this forum.

Here is my letter to Arbitrator O'Beirne (I redacted the names of the Respondents):

Betsy Combier
315 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065

                                                                March 17, 2012
Stephen F. O'Beirne, Esq.,
176 Washington Avenue
Clifton, N.J. 07011

Dear Arbitrator O'Beirne,

I am the "member of the public" who attended two of your open hearings for UFT members  that have recently concluded at the New York City Department of Education Office of General Counsel, 51 Chambers Street, Manhattan.

At the hearings before you I was simply an observer, as opposed to a witness or paralegal, and therefore I and my name did not belong being placed in the hearings for        and          as the reason for a closed hearing or at least a closed hearing for the testimony of any child(ren). As a non-party I could not contribute in the record any comments to the baseless and slanderous comments made to you by Ms. Cheryl  Smith-Massena about me, and you did not suggest that I address this statement, although I was ready to do so if you had requested it.  I am writing this letter to clarify my position as an advocate and reporter who has attended open and public NYC 3020-a hearings for almost nine years.

Ms. Smith-Massena accused me of posting the names of children on my blog in order to validate her argument that you must close open and public 3020-a hearings to the "public", meaning me and any other observer.  On Friday February 3, you stated that the Department had even accused me of bringing in animal(s)?? I did appreciate your comment about a giraffe, however I believe that Ms. Smith-Massena and her Supervisor Theresa Europe are serious about harassing me with whatever allegation of wrong-doing they can fling my way.  For the record I have never taped or videotaped a Hearing, never brought an animal into a hearing, and have never asked to interview a witness who is under oath during a hearing. I believe Ms. Massena's motive was to retaliate against me for posting her and Theresa Europe's memo in the Steve Ostrin case on my blog and website, see the articles below:

Steve Ostrin

In Mr. Ostrin's article you will see his accuser, Grace, was in his class at Brooklyn Tech, however when she came in to testify at his hearing in 2009-2010 she was already over the age of eighteen.

 It may be useful for you to know that barely 5 minutes before starting the           hearing Attorney Maria Elena Gonzalez-Lichten told all four public observers ready to attend the 3020-a for Ms.     that you were considering closing the Hearing when the child came in to testify because the Chancellor's Regulations required this. I do not know of any Chancellor's Regulation that says this, but I may have missed that "fact" despite my detailed analysis of the Regulations.

As a result of both Ms. Smith-Massena and Ms. Gonzalez-Lichten requiring a closed hearing when the child witness came in to the  3020-a of          you even sequestered me and the other observers on the floor below, so that we could not see or impose ourselves on the child. The assumption that I would do such a thing is abhorrent to me, as well as your sequestering, as demanded by the DOE and NYSUT. I have never heard of this happening before in any hearing that I have attended over the past nine years.

 I am, it is true, a blogger and online writer/reporter. My website,, and two of my blogs, NYC Rubber Room Reporter and New York Court Corruption,  are on the internet since 2002, 2007, and 2008, respectively.

 What is absolutely untrue is the allegation that I post names of minor children on my blog, unless the name(s) are already published elsewhere online or in hard copy. Ms. Smith-Massena knew when she told you about my posting children's names that this "fact" was not true. As stated above,  I have filed a Notice of Claim with the NYC Bureau of Law and Adjustment as well as with the City of New York.  My 50-H hearing took place on  January 31, 2012. I intend on pursuing this.

I have had more than ample opportunity to post any and all witness' names, because over the past eight plus years I have studied cases, read the transcripts,  represented children and parents in IEP reviews and Impartial Hearings, and seen hundreds of names of minor children who testify or appear at various hearings with Department of Education personnel. I have been hired to be a paralegal at several hearings in the past couple of months.

The focus of my book is the process used in the 3020-a to charge, suspend, and/or terminate teachers, therefore names of children and witnesses are not important and will not be used if the individual is under 18 years of age, unless I feel that the name(s) are necessary for the story to be told. As I intend on pursuing Ms. Smith-Massena's actions and those of her colleagues and Supervisor as they relate to insults and false claims of me, my character, or my work, I ask that you keep all notes, documents, transcripts, and any and all other evidence that shows any reference to me by any NYC Department of Education personnel. I may ask you to produce them, as well as any and all information that led to your sequestering me and the other observers at the hearing of                 .

My fervent hope is that Cheryl Smith-Massena, her colleagues, and Supervisor stop saying, writing, or alleging in any way "facts" that they are aware of being not true, and that you ask for a response from an observer at a hearing you preside over, so that Ms. Massena or any other person at a hearing before you is not allowed to accuse someone of something without the person so accused is given a chance to rebut the allegation.

Thank you very much for your attention and consideration of this request! If you have any questions, please call me or email me at the addresses at the top of this letter.


Betsy Combier
Copies mailed to:, for posting
NYC Rubber Room Reporter, for posting
NYSED Teacher Tenure Unit
American Arbitration Association
Theresa Europe
Cheryl Smith-Massena
Maria Elena Gonzalez Lichten
Claude Hersh

I just received an email from Maria Elena Gonzalez which I want to share with you so that I can answer her on this post:

From: "Maria Gonzalez"
To: betsy.combier@gmail
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2012 12:45:49 -0400
Subject: your erroneous comment

As a courtesy,  I informed the public that           hearing would be closed pursuant to the provision of the Commissioner's Regulations, not the Chancellor's Regulations as you erroneously stated in your letter to Mr. O'Beirne. ( DOE counsel had provided a copy of the relevant  New York Commissioner of Education Rules and Regulations  (NYCRR). Also, please do not change my  name. M name is Maria Elena Gonzalez, not "Maria Elena Gonzalez-Lichten" as I have never changed or hyphenated my name nor am I required to do so because of my marriage. Thank you.
Here is my response:
I assumed that your former client, Eric Fuller, who posted your telephone call to him after you told him not to testify at his 3020-a and he was terminated, had recent information about your professional name being hyphenated, so I will not refer to you in the future by Maria Elena Gonzalez-Lichten, thank you for bringing this to my attention.
As for my being "confused" about your saying the "Commissioner's Regulations" as opposed to "Chancellor's Regulations" before you started screaming that I was a liar, and I lied about everything (when I asked what I lied about), I am very aware of the Commissioner's Regulations as well as NYCRR, and you did NOT mention either of these. Before you started screaming that I was a liar you said that O'Beirne was hearing the argument for closing the hearing based upon the Chancellor's Regulations, and that is why I took my pad out of my bag and asked you "Which Chancellor's Regulation is that?" at which point you started screaming that I was a liar.

Soon after you left the space where I and the other observers were sitting, the three ladies - who had never met me before - told me that I should never have lied about you, and how could I do that, so you definitely had an important influence over their perception of me. What, exactly, did I say/write about you that is/was a lie? Please give me details so I can address these allegations.

I also received emails, text messages and telephone calls from your clients telling me that they are not supposed to talk with me because you told them I am "trouble". Can you please elaborate on that? I'd like to know exactly what you mean, so that I can properly address this allegation.

Please reply to me no later than March 30, 2012, or I will assume that you have no facts upon which your statements are based, and will proceed accordingly.

Thank you, Ms. Gonzalez.


Betsy Combier

Here is Maria Elena Gonzalez' reply:
Maria Gonzalez to me
show details Mar 26 (8 days ago)

Dear Ms. Combier,
As a non lawyer, you maybe unaware that I am not at liberty to discuss anything relating to my client representation with you. Therefore I unfortunateley cannot rectify your strange and baseless attacks on my representation. Especially in the case of Eric Fuller- I would think even you  should be able to figure out that you have very limited information about that matter.  You are well aware that you have lied, or  at best, have been recklessly misinformed and careless when reporting about me in your blog. Please cease from contacting me. -Maria Elena Gonzalez

Note from me:
I spoke with Eric Fuller after he received his unjust decision of termination, and he appealed to the New York State Supreme Court to overturn the decision. I read the Petition.