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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

State Board of Regents Creates New Office: Test Security Unit

New state test security unit seen as improvement in SED’s ability to police teacher misconduct

On Board Online • April 9, 2012


By the New York State Association of School Attorneys

In March, the state Board of Regents voted to create a new office within the State Education Department (SED) called the Test Security Unit. Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. announced that a federal prosecutor, Tina Sciocchetti, would become the first executive director of the unit. Overlooked in initial coverage of this appointment is the role this office will play in addressing the problem of education professionals who have engaged in egregious misconduct, regardless of whether testing is involved.

An SED news release said that Sciocchetti “will also be responsible for overseeing teacher and administrator discipline, including the department’s enforcement of moral character regulatory provisions that are applied when certified educators are found to have engaged in misconduct, ranging from test integrity violations to inappropriate relationships with students.”

This is welcome news among school attorneys because of widespread frustration with inefficiencies in the 3020-a disciplinary process, which is used to address a wide range of inappropriate employee conduct.
Part 83 of the commissioner’s regulations authorizes the commissioner to impose disciplinary action against certified individuals such as teachers or administrators who have “been convicted of a crime, or (have) committed an act which raises a reasonable question as to the individual’s moral character.” Penalties the commissioner can impose include a temporary or permanent suspension of certification, fines up to $5,000, and/or a requirement to undergo continuing education or retraining.

Historically, certification revocation has been the penalty issued for  egregious acts, such as teachers who have committed crimes or used drugs with students. However, the commissioner’s authority under Part 83 is not limited to only certain forms of moral turpitude. In creating the Test Security Unit, the Regents have explicitly identified test cheating as an act which “raises a reasonable question as to the individual’s moral character” and can put an individual’s professional license in jeopardy. Because many forms of employee misconduct involve moral issues, the creation of the Test Security Unit represents an opportunity for the State Education Department to take a much-needed leadership role in policing egregious employee misconduct.

The number of Part 83 cases resulting in action against professional certifications has increased in recent years. In 2006 approximately 109 certifications were acted upon as a result of Part 83 investigations. By 2010, that number increased to approximately 132.

Until 2001, Part 83 allegations were handled by an SED office known as the Teacher Moral Character Unit or Part 83 Office. Then the Legislature passed the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act, which required SED to conduct fingerprinting and criminal background checks on not only newly certified individuals, but on all new school staff.

This function was added as an additional duty of the Part 83 Office. The office was renamed the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability (OSPRA). Staff at that time was limited to just three investigators and two attorneys. Additional staff was added with the SAVE legislation, but the majority of disciplinary cases involving issues of moral turpitude continued to be handled at the school district level, through Section 3020-a proceedings.

As a result, school districts have had the burden of prosecuting hundreds of 3020-a cases to try to remove teachers and administrators who may have committed acts that demonstrate a lack of good moral character. Many cases end in a settlement in which the person agrees to resign. A 2008 NYSSBA survey found 3020-a cases outside of New York City cost districts an average of $216,588 and it took an average of 502 days from the date charges were preferred to the date a decision was rendered.

Another frustration is the fact that in 3020-a cases light penalties have been imposed despite findings of serious misconduct – including cases involving test integrity (see sidebars, below). Arbitrators have, at times, seen fit to return individuals to the classroom after a short suspension. This is usually due to the deference that the relevant statutes and case law accord to the concept of progressive discipline in which individuals who exercise poor judgment often can get a second or third chance.

Arguably, Part 83 addresses the public interest better than the 3020-a process in cases involving moral character. License revocation means that the educator is removed not only from classrooms or school offices in one district, but from all classrooms and school offices throughout the state. As noted above, the commissioner’s authority under Part 83 includes a range of penalties of varying severity, which is consistent with the concept of progressive discipline.
Aggressive enforcement of Part 83 in cases with issues of moral character, regardless of whether test integrity is involved, would appear consistent with the Regents’ reform agenda, which has made it a statewide priority to have a high quality educator in every classroom.

The New York State Association of School Attorneys and NYSSBA have advocated for substantial 3020-a reform for many years, with meager results. Significantly, as part of the legislation implementing the new state budget, the Legislature empowered the commissioner of education to require arbitrators to adhere to timelines. (See sidebar at left). More changes are needed, however.

Staffing will be a key issue in the new SED unit. A state report recommends Sciocchetti have a staff of at least five to 10 full time investigators and attorneys who are expected to focus exclusively or primarily on test integrity. It is our hope that, at a minimum, the creation of the new unit will free other SED staff and resources to pursue Part 83 proceedings in a variety of misconduct cases where license revocation is justified.

Members of the New York State Association of School Attorneys represent school districts and BOCES. This article was written by Howard J. Goldsmith of Harris Beach PLLC in Albany. Goldsmith formerly had a variety of legal and administrative roles in the State Education Department, where he supervised the creation of the Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability and served as its first bureau chief.

NYC DOE New Social Media Guidelines

The New York City Department of Educaution has finally issued its' new Facebook policy where no one EVER is supposed to friend anyone who has been, is, or will be his or her student. This counts all the students who say they are 18 years old and older, use their parents' account, go to an internet cafe and or become your next door neighbor.

As far as I can tell, there will be more cases randomly and arbitrarily decided, based upon the politics of the moment and who you know, not what you know.

New York City imposes new social media rules for teachers

New York City Teachers Not Allowed To Interact With Students On Twitter

 Posts Tagged ‘New York City Department of Education

New York City’s Department of Education on Using Social Media


Published Online: May 4, 2012

N.Y.C. Outlines Social Media Guidelines for Educators


New guidelines released this week by the New York City education department make it clear that social networking has a place in education, but they call for restrictions on how educators and students interact in such spaces.
The guidelines recommend prohibiting students and teachers from being “friends” on popular social-networking sites, such as Facebook, and instruct teachers to create school-related email accounts that are separate from their personal email accounts, for example, for interacting with students. The guidelines also call for principals or educational supervisors to closely monitor social-networking sites that are set up for educational purposes.
Despite the restrictions, city Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott touted the use of social networking as way to engage students and boost learning. In a letter to school principals released April 30, he wrote that the responsible use of such digital tools is important.
“We seek to provide our students with the opportunities that multimedia learning can provide—which is why we should allow and encourage the appropriate and accepted use of these powerful resources,” he said.
Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the 1.1 million-student district, emphasized that the guidelines do not recommend banning social-networking sites or interaction between students and teachers on such sites. The district will continue to collect feedback on the guidelines and will review them every three months and update them as needed, Mr. Mittenthal said.
Nancy E. Willard, the director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, based in Eugene, Ore., called the guidelines “noteworthy” in their “obvious concerted effort to recognize the importance of social media for instructional activities and the effort at distinguishing between professional and personal socializing.”
But she and others expressed worries about how the guidelines will ultimately be carried out. For example, the recommendation that principals and supervisors oversee educational social-media sites and review their content closely is unlikely to work in the real world, she said.
“There is no way … a principal can effectively manage a multitude of professional social-media sites,” she said. “Impossible.”

Communication Issues

In crafting the guidelines, the country’s largest school district is following in the footsteps of other districts, including the 664,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District as well as the 9,000-student Minnetonka, Minn., district, which Mr. Mittenthal said were both used as models for the guidelines.
In response to inappropriate behavior, many districts have adopted or considered restrictions on interaction between teachers and students on social-networking sites. Teachers have been fired for improper communication with students through such sites or for inappropriate comments about their jobs or students on their own personal online pages.
National Education Association affiliates in Missouri and Ohio have issued statements saying teachers shouldn’t participate in social-networking sites even for personal use. Missouri lawmakers ended up repealing a law prohibiting teachers from using websites such as Facebook, which permit “exclusive access” to students, after mounting objections and legal action.
Experts say it’s important for districts to have policies that address social networking in education to benefit both teachers and students.
Marcus Artigliere, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at John J. Pershing Intermediate School 220 in New York City, said he believes his district’s new recommendations will give some teachers more confidence to use social networking, since they’ll have guidelines to follow. He often uses Gmail and Google applications with his students, but he said colleagues are often reluctant to move into such media.
Mr. Artigliere said he already has a separate professional Gmail account for use with his students and maintains a personal one for his private use, just as the new guidelines recommend.
Maeve L. Gavagan, an English teacher at the district’s High School of Art and Design, said she’s active on Facebook, but has long had a personal policy of not being an online “friend” with students. She makes it a point to neither accept nor reject friend requests from students, instead taking no action on them.
“Even the act of declining has an impact on them,” she said. “All these social-media platforms can be helpful and innovative in teaching, but they can also create relationships that aren’t appropriate for an academic setting.”
The new guidelines, however, suggest that teachers decline student friend requests with a message citing the new social-media guidelines.
The recommendations acknowledge that social media can be useful for educational purposes. But it says that teachers must get supervisor approval before setting up any such site, and that supervisors are responsible for monitoring such sites on a regular basis.
Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the New York City-based Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said her organization is concerned “that our principals will be expected to bear the burden of monitoring social-media activities that are, in fact, almost impossible to monitor.”
Vol. 31, Issue 30

NYC bans teachers from Facebook friending students

By  | May 2, 2012, 8:44am PDT
Summary: The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has released new social media guidelines. Among the various new rules for teachers, Facebook friending with students has been banned.
Dennis Walcott

In an attempt to minimize social media negligence, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has released new guidelines that define how teachers can and cannot use Facebook and other social networks. Teachers may communicate with students via professional pages, such as those dedicated to homework and study guides, but must get a supervisor’s approval before setting up such pages. Furthermore, parents must sign a consent form before their children can participate on those pages.
Almost every other form of contact between teachers and students is now allowed. I have embedded the 9-page document titled “NYC Department of Education Social Media Guidelines” (PDF) above. NYC began developing guidelines and recommendations on best practices for the use of social media in schools several months ago, saying it is important for school and staff to use the tools in a way that protects the privacy and safety of students and employees.
Over the last few years, dozens of teachers in NYC have been investigated and some have been fired for inappropriate interactions and relationships with students that began or were conducted on social networks. While there has definitely been behavior that oversteps student-teacher relationship boundaries, some teachers argue social networks (especially Facebook) are a critical educational resource if used appropriately, since so many students use them as a primary means of communication.
The NYCDOE rules don’t apply to relationships between teachers and teachers, or students and students, but they do apply to relationships between teachers and students. Essentially, teachers are told to keep their online personal and work lives separate. Examples of social media given in the document include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Flickr.
As for the friending part, here’s the relevant excerpt:
How should DOE employees respond to “friend” requests by current DOE students on their personal social media sites and accounts?
If DOE employees receive a request from a current DOE student to connect or communicate through a personal social media site, they should refuse the request. The following language is one suggested response: “Please do not be offended if I do not accept or respond to your request. As a DOE employee, the agency’s Social Media Guidelines do not permit interactions with current DOE students on personal social media sites. If you do want to connect, please contact me through the school (or class) page at ____ [insert link].”
The Facebook friending ban is worth underlining because of what happened in Missouri last year. A bill aiming to fight inappropriate contact between students and teachers, including protecting children from sexual misconduct by their educators, was passed in the state.
The law was written broadly enough to prohibit teachers from communicating privately with students over the Internet, inhibiting educators’ ability to converse with students via text messaging and social networks. Since the communication had to be visible to both the district and parents, this meant teachers and students couldn’t be Facebook friends.
The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) fought back. The law was repealed and teachers were allowed to be Facebook friends with their students.
NYC teachers have the opportunity to also fight back. The guidelines are to be reviewed every three months for potential updates. Feedback on the new guidelines can be sent
In May and July, NYCDOE will hold information sessions for staff in each borough to welcome suggestions and answer questions. This spring and next fall, the department will also provide training for teachers to share appropriate uses of social media in the classroom.
“In an increasingly digital world, we seek to provide our students with the opportunities that multi-media learning can provide–which is why we should allow and encourage the appropriate and accepted use of these powerful resources,” a NYCDOE spokesperson said in a statement. “As we challenge our students with new methods of learning, we will ensure that these tools are used responsibly, and serve to enrich the learning environment in our schools.”
See also: