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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The True Story of Teacher Christine Rubino And Her Prosecution By The New York City Department of Education

The True Story of Teacher Christine Rubino And Her Prosecution By The New York City Department of Education
by Betsy Combier, Editor,
Christine Rubino
On June 23 2010, Rubino went on her computer early in the morning and sent a post out on Facebook about how awful it was that a girl student drowned at the beach, the newspaper said.Later that same day, she returned and went back on Facebook, and in a moment of frustration called her students the “devils spawn”. An employee at her school was also a Facebook "friend" and he printed out the comments and gave them to the Principal. 4 months later Christine was told she was being investigated and she was removed from her classroom. She went into her 3020-a admitting her error and apologizing, but the Gotcha Squad would have none of it, and "convinced" Hearing Officer Randi Lowitt to terminate Christine. The NYC DOE has no internet policy. New York State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe overturned the termination in recognition of Christine's 15 years of service, without any disciplinary actions prior to the current matter.

No one is arguing a First Amendment defense....... 

Christine Rubino, a math teacher at Brooklyn's PS 203, was considered a good teacher by her principal. She had no disciplinary issues or U-ratings until she told the Principal that a student in one of her classes touched her breast. On June 23 2010, she went on her computer early in the morning and sent a post out on Facebook about how awful it was that a girl student at another school drowned at the beach, the newspaper said.Later that same day, she returned and went back on Facebook, and in a moment of frustration called her students the “devils spawn”. Christine told me many times that as a single mom of two children she adores, she would never hurt a child. I believe her. She is a very credible, passionate woman who is not afraid of speaking out about what is right, what is fact, and what is made up fantasy, something the NYC DOE does all the time and then the victims flee in fear. This is not Christine, and I applaud her.

The comments she made about the class that day in June 2010 she should not have made, she realized, so she removed it, and did not think about it since her Facebook page was "private" and she was not friends with any children or students in any grade at the school. What she did not know was that a colleague who was at the school and on her friends list, printed out the comment and gave it to the Principal. This was June 23, 2010. In July her principal, Lisa Esposito, wrote her a letter congratulating her on a job well done. In January 2011 Christine received an "S" for a great performance in her classroom. This occurred, remember, after Esposito received the Facebook comment from June 2010.

In September Christine was given her usual schedule of math classes. Suddenly, in October, she was re-assigned to a room next door to the principal. She heard that she was under investigation. When asked about Facebook, she told the investigator that she shared her password with a friend who was not a teacher. The investigators went to interview this friend, and she told them to come to her car. The two men sat with Christine's friend in her car, and tried to force her to say that Christine had made her say that she, not Christine, had posted the comments. The friend would not do this, because it wasnt true. However, the investigators were getting extremely harassing. Finally, she gave in, and "admitted" that Christine had told her to take the blame (which was what they wanted to hear). The friend secretly taped the investigators harassing her in the car, and Arbitrator Lowitt wanted this tape played at the arbitration hearing. I was so happy to have been in the room when the tape was played, as the investigators were giving Christine's friend a real shake-down. Priceless. Any movie producers want to get in touch with me?

Christine was brought to the "Gotcha Squad" and her New York State United Teachers ("NYSUT")Attorney Sean Kelly, told her that she must resign, as she would be terminated. Christine did not like the manner in which Sean spoke to her, nor did she see her case as a termination case. She fired Sean, and asked me to accompany her to her first day of her 3020-a arbitration with an arbitrator named Randi Lowitt. I had just been an observer of a hearing where Ms. Lowitt was the arbitrator, and the teacher Respondent was exonerated, or completely cleared. I had a pretty good impression of Ms. Lowitt as someone who was not "hired to fire", as some arbitrators on the UFT-DOE panel are, such as Leona Barsky and Josh Javits.

I changed my mind when Ms. Lowitt became the pawn of the Director of the Gotcha Squad, Theresa Europe. (See the Gotcha Squad article above). Ms. Europe runs the Administrative Trials Unit with venom for tenured teachers. Until recently Europe's boss was a woman by the name of Courtnaye Jackson-Chase, who is an Attorney now assigned detail as DOE CEO Dennis Walcott's Assistant. He needs one. Badly.

Back to Christine. Every day of her 3020-a, Theresa Europe sat in and stared at Arbitrator Lowitt, clearly trying to intimidate Lowitt. Europe kept her arm around the back of the chair of the DOE Attorney in the case, Mr. Jeff Gamils. It seems to me that Lowitt succumbed. After testimony by the Principal that she thought nothing of the comments Christine made, and thus left her to teach her classes as Christine had done for 15 years, the Principal admitted on the record that when she was told by "legal" that she had to terminate Christine but she did not want to do this, as Christine was a very good teacher, she was quite upset. The principal testified that "legal" pressured her into going for Christine's termination. That's how the Gotcha Squad works.

Randy Lowitt terminated Christine. This was truly shocking, as Christine apologized for her comments, and her comments were not related at all to her teaching ability or teacher effectiveness. Also, the NYC DOE has no online/internet policy, so everything that they do to anyone who has said or posted on Facebook is arbitrary and dicretionary. Also, she was accused of interfering with an official investigation. Huh? Where is the evidence? In my opinion, this is proof of collusion of the arbitrator with the NYC DOE. Didnt happen. Randi Lowitt made her decision, and Christine was fired.

Her attorney at 3020-a, Brian Glass, was hired to write her appeal, Verified Petition, Reply Affirmation, (see also Law Department Motion To Dismiss) to the New York State Supreme Court however the Judge, Judge Barbara Jaffe, overturned Christine's termination, saying that she thought that termination under the circumstances of this case was "shocking".

Throughout this ordeal Christine has said that she was eager to return to class. "“I always did my job and I was good at it,” fifth-grade teacher Christine Rubino said Sunday. “I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Do I have to lose my career over it?”

Also from the Daily News article:
Rubino, a teacher for 15 years, was fired last June after also ranting on Facebook that her students should drown. A judge cleared her to go back to class last week.

But the city’s Law Department released a statement Sunday saying that Rubino’s comments “warranted her termination” and that it was considering an appeal.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled that Rubino, who makes $78,000-a-year, should get her job back because she had an unblemished record.

“While her reference to a child’s death is repulsive, there is no evidence that her postings are part of a pattern of conduct or anything other than an isolated incident of intemperance,” Jaffe wrote.

Rubino, a teacher at PS 203 in Flatlands, was canned after Facebook posts became public.

“After today, I’m thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders. I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are all the devils spawn,” she posted in June 2010, a day after a 12-year-old Harlem girl drowned at a Long Island beach.

Rubino added to her problems when a friend responded on Facebook: "oh you would let little Kwame float away!"

Rubino replied: "Yes, I wld(sic) not throw a life jacket in for a million!!"

Rubino was fired after a hearing officer found that she was guilty of "misconduct, neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming her profession."

Mr. Brian Glass, Christine's Attorney, emailed me this:

"This is the fourth 3020-a decision in which I have had the penalty vacated by judges in the last approximately two years. I also have had at least 3 Unsatisfactory annual ratings of teachers overturned in the same time period. Each decision has been by a different judge. I frankly was not optimistic about winning any of these cases. There appears to be a recognition by the courts that the 3020-a process as well as the U rating appeal process have become wrongly exploited as a weapon of the DOE gestapo that has sought to demonize teachers over relatively minor incidents. There also appears to be a recognition that these so-called "neutral due process" procedures for teachers are in reality not neutral at all, given the powerful financial incentives of the hearing officers to not risk their own livelihoods in such cases. Hearing officers who dare not to do the DOE's bidding risk their livelihoods by not imposing overly harsh penalties that assuage the DOE bully prosecutors. Fortunately, there are judges in this country who are wholly independent of the DOE and are compassionate enough to understand the importance of due process in this democratic society as well as allowing individuals to learn and move on from their mistakes.

The DOE almost certainly will appeal this judge's decision, invoke its automatic stay for 9 months, and tie up this case in litigation for the next year. Even if Ms. Rubino is successful on appeal, the DOE will seek to further delay her reinstatement by insisting on additional costly hearings and arguing that only the most severest of penalties must be imposed. The DOE and media outlets favorable to its present policies will also likely criticize the courts rather than the DOE prosecutors, claiming how outrageous it is that Ms. Rubino should get a second chance at restoring her career. Unfortunately she has a long road ahead in her quest to restore her livelihood and reputation.

The DOE did not need to elect to invoke the 3020-a process in this case. A simple warning to Ms. Rubino about her mistake would have sufficed, and this would not have been repeated. Perhaps in this time of scarce resources, the substantial time and money on this case could be better allocated by the DOE positively supporting its teachers in the classroom rather than demonizing and punishing its staff."

Bryan D. Glass, Esq.

What do you think?

Betsy Combier