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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NYC 3020-a Arbitrator Randi Lowitt Retaliates Against Christine Rubino In A New Decision Ordered By NY State Supreme Court

by Betsy Combier, Editor
Christine, an excellent NYC public school teacher, made a stupid comment on Facebook which she took off her page a few days later, but by then, a "friend" had given a printout to her principal. Christine was terminated by Arbitrator Randi Lowitt, and Christine appealed her decision. The NYS Supreme Court vacated the termination, then Lowitt ruled that Christine made her plight public so she has to be punished with two years' suspension without pay. Are there any adults in the audience? by Betsy Combier
   Christine Rubino   

Christine's story has so many sideshows going on, it looks like a circus. We need to look at the entire picture so that the Gotcha Squad stops trampling on the rights of tenured teachers, a group to which Christine has been returned. One thing is crystal-clear, however: The New York City Department of Education, The home and resting place for the Gotcha Squad and the "No Hire" List as well as Arbitrator Randi Lowitt are furious with Christine Rubino and her fearless stand against their lawless and vindictive punishments which harm her. She is my friend, and I am honoring her by writing as much as I possibly can about the retaliation and harm Christine has had to endure simply because she refused to be squashed by theNYC DOE, even though she never had a chance to succeed at her 3020-a. The new Decision from Arbitrator Randi Lowitt is simply vindictive and retaliatory. More about that below.

Perhaps you are not aware of the huge importance the case of Christine Rubino has to Labor Policy and Employment Law throughout the U.S. As far as I know, Christine's case is the first NYC case where a tenured teacher was terminated for making a comment on what she believed was her private Facebook page, while the NYC Department of Education did not have a social media policy. The lack of oversight by anyone at the NYC DOE is one gaping hole in the planning and implementation of any policy. I have spent more than 9 years studying the gaping holes and mistakes of the DOE, and every day I hear of another. Mayor Bloomberg may have wanted to be the "Education Mayor", but he will never reach his goal because he did not put anyone in charge who knew what he or she was doing. Read my articles "The Who Are You Kidding Award Goes To Joel Klein" and "Kleingate", and you may fill in the dots as to what my opinion is concerning the public school system which my 4 children went through and are now, thankfully, out of (as in graduated). 

Christine's Facebook comment was made after a full teaching day with difficult children. She called them "the devil's spawn" on her private Facebook page which she shared with approximately 125 friends, none of whom were children. She suggested she would like to take them to the beach a day after 6th grader Nicole Suriel died on the beach while on a trip with her class for raising money at Columbia Secondary School. A few days later christine took the comment down and has been apologizing to the worls ever since. When the DOE started to go after her 5 months later, two of them ended up verbally abusing a friend of Christine's who taped them. These two investigators wanted the friend to tell them that Christine forced her friend to say that she, not Christine, was the one who put the comment on Facebook. The tape of these two goons was played at Christine's 3020-a and Randi Lowitt thought she heard "proof" that Christine tried to interfere with the investigation of her comment on Facebook, and used the tape to terminate Christine. I heard different "proof" - that SCI uses verbal abuse to get witnesses to say what they, SCI investigators want, and the discussion was frightening.

There are many things wrong with Lowitt's "assessment", if you can call it that. I attended Christine's 3020-a, and watched Randi Lowitt and Attorneys Theresa Europe and Jeff Gamils very carefully. My opinion of Lowitt's "assessment" was, she knew that Theresa Europe and the DOE had to go after Christine and she, Lowitt knew that Christine had to be terminated, because there were too many other side shows going on which could expose the DOE's massive fraud on the City of New York and the parents of the NYC public school system.

If you read the transcript of the first day of the Hearing, you will see that Jeff Gamils, the DOE Attorney, wanted to bring in three witnesses, even though Christine did not have an Attorney. Christine objected, and Randi told her, "There is nothing to object to" (p. 46). Also, it may shocj people to realize that Claude Hersh, head of NYC NYSUT office, picked the Attorneys who would work on the case (and, by picking the Attorneys, he chose the arbitrator). See p. 43, Jeff Gamils talks about the email from Claude. Then, in the transcript of the last day we read that the investigators who interviewed Christine's friend in her car told her that if she did not do what they wanted her to do, she would be put into jail. (p. 1486). This is pretty tough stuff, folks.

Christine had to be punished, not just for her daring to blow the whistle on the DOE by having media at her hearing - I am considered 'press', and Christine asked Sue Edelman of the NY POST to attend - but because of her connection, by sheer coincidence, to the imbedded fraud at the DOE:

1. Nicole Suriel, whose name was never mentioned by Christine, did not have to die in the beach accident June 22, 2010. Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera, Principal of Columbia Secondary School, was running a scam operation to fund his fake non-profit, and Nicole's class won the trip to the beach for raising the most money. But he couldnt have chaparones or permission slips, because he did not want questions to be asked about where the money would go. After the accident, the teacher was fired, the AP was demoted and Dr. Maldonado-rivera was reprimanded. The parents are suing. How come the Principal was only reprimanded? The DOE knew all about the scam he was running, and could not allow him to speak up about it, or get angry at the DOE. Tom Allon, CEO of Manhattan Media and running for NYC Mayor in 2013, gave him an award in 2009 as "Principal of the Year". I guess Tom played along , or did not do his research.

2. Several of her students in Christine's class in June 2010 who were referred to in her very temporary post on Facebook as "the devil's spawn" are the same kids who blinded Kardin Ulysse at the Roy Mann Junior High School in Bergen Beach. All people who have heard about the blinding of Ulysse call the kids who did the ugly deed "punks" and "little hooligans". No one has been reprimanded for this, like Christine was.

3. The DOE despises people who make "the NYC Department of Education look bad". Trust me, I am at the top of the list for harm, and all four of my children were harmed while attending their public schools. David Pakter, also a very outspoken teacher brought to 3020-a, was also charged with "making the DOE look bad." He and I asked Randi Weingarten, President of the UFT at the time, to get the DOE to withdraw that charge, and the DOE complied. Francesco Portelos is a new addition to the despised teacher list. He created a blog and posts anything the DOE says or does to him after he blew the whistle on his Principal, Linda Hill. The fact that Christine Rubino allowed Sue Edelman to come to her 3020-a infuriated Randi Lowitt so much, that Randi stopped the hearing after she told Sue Edelman to leave, and Sue said no. Randi backed down afterwards, but remained furious, as you can see from her new decision giving Christine two year's suspension without payafter Judge Jaffe in the NYS Supreme Court wrote a decision saying that Christine's termination was "shocking to the conscience".

4. David Senatore, the "friend" on Christine's Facebook page who printed out her comment and gave it to the principal of Christine's school, was also a teacher at the same school. He was a "favorite" of the Principal, who was covering up Senatore's love for certain boys who attended the after school program. Senatore knew that Christine and others were aware of his taking boys home with him and letting them use his pool. Getting Christine out of the school was a convenient solution. An update on Senatore's story is that in March 2012 he was removed from the school, and has been awaiting charges while sitting at 335 Adams Street. He called me to ask me to help him find one of the boys he was fond of, and told me not to tell anyone. I reported this call, and I heard that teachers have written the investigators about Senatore's actions for several years with the boys in the after school program. 

This article is the third that I have written about Christine Rubino. Here are the other posts on this website and on NYC Rubber Room Reporter:

The True Story of Teacher Christine Rubino And Her Prosecution By The New York City Department of Education
New York State Supreme Court Overturns Arbitrator Randi Lowitt's Decision To Terminate Christine Rubino For Facebook Comments by Betsy Combier

After NY State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe decided that termination was a "shocking" penalty and remanded the case back to the NYC DOE for a lesser penalty, the Gotcha Squad Director Theresa Europe and her subordinate, Attorney Jeff Gamils, made sure that Arbitrator Randi Lowitt got the case again. This is outrageous, as Jaffe did not order the new penalty be decided by the same arbitrator.

Randi Lowitt should never have been given the authority to make a second determination for Christine Rubino, as she was, at Christine's 3020-a, not neutral at all, in my opinion. In NYC the panel of arbitrators who get appointed to hear cases are "permanent", meaning they stay for a year, and get re-appointed by Theresa Europe and Claude Hersh from NYSUT every June. Until April 1, 2012, when new rules changed the business of arbitration that dominates this panel, anyone would have considered the job as NYC Arbitrator a very good one, as each arbitrator was paid $1400-$2300/day, not the much less fees for arbitration under the rules of the American Aarbitration Association.

Each arbitrator gets a DOE Attorney and a NYSUT Attorney who stays with him or her for the year, or for many years. This leads, of course, to an extremely 'chummy' environment where the Respondent teacher's witnesses and defense may be forgotten.

Christine alienated Randi Lowitt the second day of her hearing. Christine was given Attorney Sean Kelly as her NYSUT Attorney, and on day one she knew this would not work for her. Kelly did not believe in her case, and at the pre-hearing kept telling her to resign. I was not in attendance at the pre-hearing, but Christine and I had discussed her case before it began, and she asked for an open and public hearing so that I could attend. Here is Christine's first email to me sent Feb. 12, 2011:

"To Whom it May Concern,
Hello, My name is Christine Rubino and I have been working for the NYC Board of Education for the last 14 years. I have been in the same school for all those years. I am now currently sitting at 131 Livingston Street waiting for my 3020 hearing to proceed (Pre-hearing is Wednesday, February 16th, and hearing is supposed to begin February 17th). My crime... A facebook comment that was made on my own time, from my own computer, that was not racial or sexual in nature. Nor, did this comment contain names of the place of my work. It didnt hurt or threaten anyone. It was an off the cuff comment, that was made out of just having a bad day. My privacy settings were set to private, and a confidential person took comments and showed AP, and Principal. who then lodged a complaint against me with the Office Of Special Investigation. The Board is looking to fire me over this. I have many notes in my file that prove I am an excellent teacher and do a great job, but for some reason they are going for the jugular on this. I do not feel the union is preparing the case like they should, and I am seeking outside counsel on Monday. The punishment does not seem to fit the crime, and I feel like I am being railroaded, and that a huge injustice is being commited against me. Is this something you might be interested in. I am a single mother of 2 children, and feel like this is just a little too over the edge, and the DOE is being unfair."

I called her up and have spoken to her almost every week, sometimes every day, ever since.

On the first day of the actual hearing I was there. Christine told Randi and Jeff Gamils that she would no longer use Shawn Kelly in the 3020-a. This shocked and angered Randi Lowitt. Her team was broken. Lowitt tried to get Christine to start the hearing without her new Attorney, Brian Glass, but Christine kept objecting to this, and finally Lowitt gave in and closed for the day, not so much for due process considerations, but because she was frustrated in not getting her way quickly.
If you read the transcript of the first day of the Hearing, you will see that Jeff Gamils, the DOE Attorney, wanted to bring in three witnesses, even though Christine did not have an Attorney. Christine objected, and Randi told her, "There is nothing to object to" (p. 46). Also, it may shock people to realize that Claude Hersh, head of NYC NYSUT office, picked the Attorneys who would work on the case (and, by picking the Attorneys, he chose the arbitrator). See p. 43, Jeff Gamils talks about the email from Claude. Then, in the transcript of the last day we read that the investigators who interviewed Christine's friend in her car told her that if she did not do what they wanted her to do, she would be put into jail. (p. 1486). This is pretty tough stuff, folks. 

A side show to this side show is that on May 25, 2011, less than 1 month after the closing argument, there was a fire drill at 49-51 Chambers Street. I happened to be there for a hearing at which I was the paralegal. Everyone in the building had to exit the building, and all Arbitrators, Gotcha Squad, OPI personnel, everyone had to stand out side. A teacher who was going through his 3020-a with Attorney Kelly as his Attorney saw this person and I talking (the teacher was standing right behind me in line), and came over and said "Come with me." Kelly took this person a few feet away, turned towards the hundreds of people standing on the sidewalk, and started screaming at his client, "DO NOT SPEAK WITH BETSY COMBIER! ANYONE WHO SPEAKS WITH HER IS FIRED! SHE IS A CRIMINAL!" I decided to turn on the video on my smartphone, and walked calmly over to Kelly. I said to him, "Hey, Shawn, what's up with this? Where did you get this stuff from?" He told me that I was violating the law. I walked away, went back to the line.

Lowitt seemed to like Brian, but Christine had asked me to get media coverage and invited Sue Edelman of the NY POST. Sue had never been to a 3020-a, so she came. Lowitt was truly enraged, and told Sue that she could not sit in. Sue said that she did not have to leave, and this is an open and public hearing. Lowitt adjourned while she called a few people, and finally told everyone that she would "allow" Sue Edelman to stay. Sue is mentioned in Lowitt's second decision, below, that's how angry Lowitt was at that point with Christine, Sue, and probably me, as some sort of ringleader. Go figure.

As I have said in my previous articles, Theresa Europe, the Director of the Gotcha Squad and the ATU (Administrative Trials Unit) has her hand in every case, from a distance. I have seen her and spoken to her briefly whenever I see her at 51 Chambers Street quite often over the past 9 years. I have never attended a hearing where Theresa came and sat all day, many days of a hearing, as in Christine's case. I believe that she was making sure that Lowitt terminated Christine. It worked.

Lowitt's second decision after the remand back to the DOE is here. And now Christine is starting a second appeal. And on and on it goes, until nobody wins anything and everyone loses, all paid for by you, the public.

Are there any adults in the audience?

Betsy Combier

The Blackboard Award 2009 Goes To Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera

Nicole Suriel

Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera is quickly becoming a household name, due to the fact that he sent  Nicole Suriel and her class to the beach on June 22, 2010 without an appropriate number of chaparones, and no parent was offered nor signed a permission slip. Nicole Suriel died in the water (see more at the end of this post). He was reprimanded, teacher Erin Baily who was told to accompany the children was fired, and AP Sullivan was demoted.

This outraged parents, yet no one focused on the root problem: Dr. Maldonado-Rivera was running a scam at his school, raising money by having children compete in contests and raise money for his fake nonprofit, then win awards. That's how Nicole Suriel ended up on the beach without the necessary safety measures in place. The NYC DOE has given principals the authority to put fraud and corruption above students' health, safety, and welfare, and we all must stop the coverups and wrongdoing - I think by publicizing what is going on.

The NYC DOE knew all about the scam, as I and another parent have been in touch with an investigator from SCI since 2004 about these sorts of fraudulent money-taking scams, first at Stuyvesant High School where the antics of Paola De Kock have been documented, and then at Columbia Secondary School as well as at Shuang Wen. I still remember the day I spoke with the auditors of the Stuyvesant High School Parent's Association, and they whispered into the phone, "Betsy, there is so much money missing we could not do an audit."...when I reported this to SCI, Paola and her crew started their campaign to get rid of me and Mary Lok, the chinese parent also asking questions. Scott Stringer's Attorney Jimmy Yan left a message on my cell phone saying that he was pursuing answers, but he never followed up. I have Mr. Yan's message on my cellphone to this day, to remind me that Scott Stringer never helped me or the chinese parents find out where the money from the Stuy PA was stored or for what it was used.

Manhattan Media was convinced that by giving Dr. Maldenado-Rivera a Principal of the Year award, this would divert attention away from him and his school, so that the scheme to steal money from the parents could go on without anyone noticing. Manhattan Media gave a program called DELTA at Booker T. Washington MS 54 an award as middle school of the year in 2004, as a way to cover up the racial discrimination and special education fraud of Principal Larry Lynch. DELTA was not a middle school but an Honors program, one of 5, within MS 54.

Who gives the Blackboard Awards? None other than Tom Allon, running for Mayor in 2013. I, for one, will not be voting for him.


2009: Principals of the Year

Vision and Passion for Teaching
Big strides for school that caters to high-achieving minority students

Since the opening of Columbia Secondary School in fall 2007, Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera has immersed himself in education, spending 12 to 14 hours a day pushing students to succeed and providing support for teachers. In the little spare time that remains, he works on his book about public versus private school startups, and teaches a course at Columbia College. Then there’s the occasional substitute teaching; due to budget cuts, Maldonado-Rivera would rather cover a class himself than pay for a substitute.
“I can learn along with them and teach them at the same time,” he said. “If you don’t love them [your students], it’s not going to work. They need to feel like you care about them and about their future so much that they can trust you.”
Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera
Born and raised on a farm in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, Maldonado-Rivera, 47, attended an elite public school that had a partnership with the University of Puerto Rico. Maldonado-Rivera went on to earn two Ph.D.s—one in ecology and evolution at University of California Santa Barbara, and the other in science education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.
In 2006, he was tapped by the city and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger to create the Columbia Secondary School, a world-class secondary school that serves high-achieving minority students in Upper Manhattan. Foregoing a cushier job at an international private school that he helped create in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Maldonado-Rivera decided to return to a long term goal of his: providing underprivileged students with a world-class education.
In just three years, Maldonado-Rivera helped create a top-ranking public school that has a 7 percent acceptance rate. More than half of the middle schoolers come from low-income families, but 96 percent of students scored a 3 or a 4 on the 6th grade English Language Arts exam in 2007-2008, and 99 percent of 6th graders scored a 3 or a 4 on the math exam that same year.
Included in Columbia Secondary School’s rich curriculum is “J-term,” a June mini-semester that involves adventurous learning experiences at home or abroad, including a popular biodiversity trip to Puerto Rico with Maldonado-Rivera.
The school offers more than 50 enrichment courses, ranging from Egyptian art to genetics to bioethics.
“Middle school is where the fork occurs,” Maldonado-Rivera said. “If you’re going to hook them, it’s going to occur then. If you don’t, you have lost the battle.”
Teachers, parents and students all praise Maldonado-Rivera for revolutionizing the standard middle school curriculum.
“He was able to verbalize his vision,” said Beth Fidoten, mother of 8th grader Jacob Fidoten. “You have to have the vision but also the leadership to see it though. Principal Maldonado has both to galvanize a community and make it happen.”
Eighth grader Antonio Taveras’s favorite elective is Maldonado-Rivera’s course on marine biology. Though strict, “he is really good about using his sense of humor in class,” Taveras said.
Marianthi Markatou, a Columbia University biostatistics professor, took her daughter, Lilly Talal, out of a nearby private school so she could attend Columbia Secondary School in 6th grade. The reason was simple.
“Maldonado’s vision and passion for teaching,” she said, “is contagious.”
— Aline Reynolds
Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera,
Columbia Secondary School
425 W. 123rd St.
New York, N.Y. 10027

Above: Dr. Jose Maldonado-Rivera leads one of the most popular “J-term” projects at Columbia Secondary: a biodiversity trip to Puerto Rico. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Teacher Fired After City Probe Deems Nicole Suriel's Death a Result of 'Poor Judgment' Reports Say 

Updated July 15, 2010 6:10am

By Simone Sebastian
DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
HARLEM — A first-year teacher was reportedly fired Wednesday after a city probe revealed that she let students who couldn't swim into the water during a beach field trip last month that ended in the drowning of 12-year-old Nicole Suriel.
Erin Bailey, a 26-year-old teacher at Columbia Secondary School who told her students, "If you can't swim, don't go in the water past your waist," was fired Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The school's assistant principal, Andrew Stillman, was demoted and its principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, was reprimanded.
"We will be reviewing the regulations on field trips and will be making appropriate changes in light of this tragedy," schools spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said, the paper reported.
The report on the city's investigation, headed up by Special Commissioner for the Department of Education Richard Condon, said the rookie eight-grade English teacher displayed "poor conduct" during the June 22 field trip. The report also faulted the school for failing to properly plan for the outing and for the lack of adult supervision.
The school's principal, Maldonado-Rivera, sent an e-mail to parents only the day before the trip saying students should come to school the next day "dressed to swim and play in the sun."
Assistant Principal Andrew Stillman, who has reportedly since been demoted to tenured teacher, was supposed to be on the trip to help supervise, but did not attend because he felt too overwhelmed with work, the report said.
That left Bailey a one of only three adults supervising the 24 students on June 22. The others were her 28-year-old boyfriend Joseph Garnevicus, who couldn't swim, and 19-year-old teaching intern Victoria Wong.
Wong saved at least four students, while an unidentified beachgoer saved one other. Bailey saved one child before she needed rescuing from the Coast Guard, who also said they pulled out another child.
But nobody could get to Nicole, whose body was discovered in the water an hour later.
The report also said that the school did not provide permission slips to parents for the trip. Instead, parents were given two "universal" permission slips at the beginning of the year that had them signing off on out-of-school trips and their children using the swimming pool at the school.
Several students interviewed in the report remembered Bailey telling them on that fatal day to stay in the shallow water. Some even remembered seeing the "No Lifeguard" signs that beach officials say were posted at every entrance to the beach that day. Bailey did not participate in the investigation and has a UFT lawyer representing her.
Oliver Storch, an attorney for the Suriel family, called the report "very thorough," and noted that it showed a series of failures in planning and supervision of the trip.
"This was a tragedy from the inception," Storch said. The report "speaks volumes. It's quite definitive on where the blame lies."
Storch said he is discussing the report with the Suriel family, but he would not comment on whether they would be filing a lawsuit.
"They are still destroyed and in terrible pain," he said.
The report was copied to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice "for whatever action she deems appropriate."
A spokeswoman for Rice said the DA "is engaged in a thorough review of the facts and circumstances concerning the tragic death of 12 year old Nicole Suriel."

Nicole Suriel's Life Ended Amid Panic After Weeks of Poor Planning Updated July 15, 2010 11:29am