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Saturday, June 21, 2014

US Supreme Court Rules That Public Worker Testimony Is Protected From Retaliation

 From Rubberroom3020-a blog:

At 3020-a arbitration in New York City, the Department of Education tries cases with vengeance and bad faith. When someone succeeds in trumping their deck of cards, say with subpoenas and excellent testimony by witnesses who work for the Department but want to tell the truth, the Department yells "foul".

The attorneys at the Gotcha Squad are now telling principals to stop anyone in the school building who is subpoenaed to appear for a Respondent and testify that if they do appear at the arbitration they will be docked a day's pay.

So, please give this awesome decision below by the United States Supreme Court to everyone put into that position. TRUTH MUST BE TOLD WITHOUT FEAR.

Betsy Combier

Public Worker Testimony Is Protected, Justices Rule

WASHINGTON — The First Amendment protects government employees from retaliation for giving truthful testimony that was not part of their job responsibilities, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The case involved Edward R. Lane, a former director of a youth program at a public community college in Alabama, who was fired after giving trial testimony in a public corruption trial.

“It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court, “to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials — speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment — may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim.”

Judge Sonia Sotomayor

“Such a rule,” she added, “would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs.”

Mr. Lane had discovered that a state legislator, Suzanne Schmitz, was on his program’s payroll, collecting $177,000, though she performed virtually no work. Mr. Lane fired her, and she vowed to get him back.

A federal grand jury indicted Ms. Schmitz on corruption charges. Mr. Lane, under subpoena, testified about what he had learned. Ms. Schmitz was convicted, sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay back the money.

Mr. Lane was nonetheless fired in 2009, and he sued the president of the college, Steve Franks, saying that his termination was retaliation for his testimony and a violation of his First Amendment rights. Mr. Franks said he let Mr. Lane go for financial reasons unrelated to his testimony.

The federal appeals court in Atlanta said it was unnecessary to decide who was right because public employees have no First Amendment protections for statements they make as part of their official duties.

Since “the record fails to establish that Lane testified as a citizen on a matter of public concern,” the appeals court said in an unsigned opinion, “he cannot state a claim for retaliation under the First Amendment.”

Justice Sotomayor said the appeals court was wrong on both points: Mr. Lane had testified as a citizen and his testimony was on a matter of public concern.

“Sworn testimony in judicial proceedings,” she wrote, “is a quintessential example of speech as a citizen for a simple reason: Anyone who testifies in court bears an obligation, to the court and society at large, to tell the truth.”

“That is so,” she added, “even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment.”

Justice Sotomayor also had little difficulty in determining that Mr. Lane’s testimony — about “corruption in a public program and misuse of state funds” — was on a matter of public concern.

Thursday’s decision in Lane v. Franks, No. 13-483, clarified the scope of the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which cut back on First Amendment protections for public employees and ruled that a prosecutor’s internal memorandum prepared as part of his job was unprotected.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurrence signed by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr., said Thursday’s decision did not address testimony from, say, police officers and crime lab analysts for whom court appearances are “a routine and critical part of their employment duties.”

While Mr. Lane established an important legal principle, he will not benefit from it. In the second part of her opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote that Mr. Franks, the official who fired him, was protected by qualified immunity.

That doctrine required Mr. Lane to show not only that his rights were violated, but also that those rights were clearly established at the time. Justice Sotomayor said Mr. Lane could not overcome the second hurdle.
Lane v. Franks

Does the First Amendment permit the government to retaliate against a public employee for sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary work duties?
Does qualified immunity preclude a claim for damages in this action?
April 28, 2014
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Lane is the former director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth Program (“CITY”) at Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”); Steve Franks is the former president of CACC. As director of CITY, Lane conducted an audit and discovered that state representative Susan Schmitz was on CITY’s payroll, but had not come to work at the office or performed any work outside the office for CITY. Lane terminated Schmitz’s employment after she refused to report to work. After Schmitz’s termination at CITY, the FBI investigated her for mail fraud and fraud concerning a program receiving federal funds. Lane was subpoenaed and testified at both of Schmitz’s criminal trials. Lane testified that Schmitz had not been reporting to work at CITY, and was only receiving paychecks. Following Schmitz’s criminal trials, Franks terminated Lane. Lane sued Franks in his official and individual capacities, alleging that Franks violated Lane’s First Amendment rights by terminating Lane in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that because Lane’s speech was made in his official capacity as CITY’s director, he failed to state a claim for retaliation. The Supreme Court’s decision will clarify the scope of the First Amendment as it relates to protecting testifying public employees from retaliation by their employers.

Is the government categorically free under the First Amendment to retaliate against a public employee for truthful sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities?
Does qualified immunity preclude a claim for damages in such an action?

Petitioner Edward Lane is the previous Director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth Program (“CITY”) at Central Alabama Community College (“CACC”), and Respondent Steve Franks is the former president of CACC. In 2006, Lane accepted a probationary position as director of CITY, and, as part of his duties, Lane began an audit of CITY’s finances. While conducting this audit Lane discovered that state representative Suzanne Schmitz was on CITY’s payroll, but had not come to work nor performed any work for the program. Lane was warned by CACC’s former president and lawyer that terminating Schmitz’s employment would negatively affect Lane and CACC. After Schmitz refused to report to work, Lane terminated Schmitz’s employment with CITY. Schmitz then sued, seeking to get her job back. Schmitz also told another CITY employee that she would “get [Lane] back” for terminating her. Schmitz went on to say that if Lane ever requested money from the state legislature Schmitz would tell him “you’re fired.”
Following Schmitz’s termination at CITY, the FBI began investigating Schmitz for mail fraud and fraud regarding a different federally funded program. Lane was subpoenaedand testified at Schmitz’s August 2008 federal criminal trial. Lane testified that Schmitz had not been reporting to work at CITY. Lane also testified that he had several phone conversations with Schmitz where he inquired about Schmitz’s work duties, and that he requested that she start reporting to work daily at CITY’s Huntsville office. Schmitz responded that she had gotten her job through her connections with the Alabama Education Association. In writing, Schmitz responded to Lane’s request by stating she would like to “continue to serve the CITY program in the same manner as [she had] in the past.” In February 2009, Lane testified to all of these facts again at Schmitz’s second criminal trial.
As a result of large budget cuts in 2008, Lane and Franks discussed the possibility of laying off all probationary employees. Franks sent termination letters to Lane and twenty-nine CITY employees, all of whom had served less than three years at CITY. In the following days Franks rescinded all of the terminations except for Lane and one other employee. Franks stated that he did this because he discovered that many CITY employees were not actually probationary.
Lane sued Franks in his official capacity as CACC president and in his individual capacity, alleging that Franks terminated Lane as retaliation for testifying against Schmitz, thereby violating Lane’s First Amendment rights. The district court granted Frank’s motion forsummary judgment, concluding that because Lane’s speech was made in his official capacity as CITY’s director, Lane did not establish a prima facie case for a retaliation claim.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine two questions. First, whether under the First Amendment, the government can retaliate against a public employee for testimony that was compelled by subpoena and not part of the employee’s regular job responsibilities. Second, whether qualified immunity precludes a claim for damages in an action such as this.
As amici curiae in support of Petitioner Lane, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (“ACLU”) argue that a witness who gives sworn testimony at a judicial proceeding is always speaking as a “citizen” on a “matter of public concern,” and therefore should be protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU argues that all sworn statements seek to advance the truth and maintain the integrity of the judicial process. Therefore, the ACLU asserts, a public employee’s sworn statement in a judicial processing is a matter of public concern just the same as any citizen. Additionally, the ACLU contends that a case-by-case review of a witness’s testimony is unnecessary because of the inherent importance of truthful testimony in the judicial system. The ACLU argues that a testifying witness should only be concerned with telling the truth, and not whether their testimony will anger their boss. Accordingly, the ACLU would have the Court establish a bright-line rule protecting all sworn statements under the First Amendment.
Respondent Burrow, acting President of the CACC, argues that the Court should not adopt a rule that all testimony counts as citizen speech touching on matters of public concern.Burrow contends that employees who speak in their official capacity cannot be considered to be speaking as citizens because the government is paying them for their speech.Burrow argues that for many government employees, testifying is a routine part of their job. Additionally, Burrow asserts that other employees are reasonably expected to promote their employer’s official position while testifying. Burrow states that “a governor’s chief of staff, the warden of a prison, the head of a state agency” are all examples of government employees that the government is warranted to replace if they are unable to promote the official government position while testifying. Burrow contends that just like private employers, government employers must be able to ensure that their employees testify accurately about the government’s position.
In support of Lane, the First Amendment Coalition argues that to encourage truthful testimony, the Court should recognize the longstanding public policy that in-court testimony must be specially protected against civil claims. The Coalition contends that historically, testifying witnesses have been immune from damages suits and that this immunity remains necessary today. The Coalition further contends that the foremost goal of the judicial system is to reach the truth, and that individual damages claims will only obstruct this goal. Specifically, the Coalition asserts that testifying witnesses could be persuaded to alter their testimony for fear of facing liability. The ACLU also contends that sworn statements must have absolute protection from civil liability to accord with the First Amendment. .
Both Petitioner and Respondent agree that Lane has qualified immunity as a testifying witness. However, with respect to Franks’ liability for terminating Lane, Lane argues that qualified immunity does not protect Franks from liability because his conduct violated a clearly established right under the First Amendment. Lane contends that Franks could not have reasonably believed that he was acting in accordance with the law in the Eleventh Circuit when he terminated Lane.
Burrow counters that when Lane was terminated, there was no clear rule in the Eleventh Circuit that the First Amendment protected all government employees’ testimony concerning work-related matters; therefore, Burrow asserts that Franks has qualified immunity. Furthermore, Burrow contends that a qualified immunity defense should not require state officials to predict changes in federal law. Burrow contends that a bright-line rule which allows an officer to follow the law of their circuit, in spite of how it may differ from other precedents, would allow suits like this one to be resolved much earlier. Burrow asserts that the main reason behind the immunity doctrine is to ensure that unviable claims against government officials are resolved early in the litigation process.
The Eleventh Circuit held that Lane’s testimony was made in his capacity as a government employee and therefore was not protected under the First Amendment. Both Petitioner Lane and Respondent Burrow seek reversal of this determination and argue that Lane gave testimony in his capacity as a concerned citizen on a matter of public concern and therefore warrants First Amendment protection. However, the parties disagree about how to determine who was speaking as a citizen and whether the matter was of public concern.Additionally, Lane believes that Franks is not entitled to qualified immunity because it is not available when an official violates a clearly established right—the right to testify— whereas Burrow argues that qualified immunity exists here and in all cases where government officers’ actions were consistent with governing circuit law.
Both parties agree that the Court should follow its precedent set forth in Garcetti v. Caballos. In Garcetti, the Courtheld that so long as employees are speaking as a citizen about a matter of public concern, employers can only impose speech restrictions that are necessary for the employers to operate efficiently and effectively.
Lane argues that he gave his testimony as a citizen, not as an employee of the State. He contends that he was subpoenaed in his individual capacity as a fact witness and not under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6), under which the subpoena is served on an organization who then designates the witness. Lane maintains that he—as an individual—had to decide how to respond to the subpoena, and if he had lied or failed to comply, he alone would have borne the repercussions. Moreover, when Lane testified at Schmitz’s second trial, he had already been terminated from his directorial position.
Lane argues that his testimony is protected by the First Amendment because it relates to a matter of public concern—as shown by the content, form, and context of his testimony.Lane points to Connick v. Myers, where the court recognized that speech giving the public information to evaluate the performance of an elected official is of public concern, as is speech exposing a breach of the public trust. Lane argues that his speech fell into the public-concern category because it revealed Schmitz’s corruption and drew attention to the broader public interest of exposing corruption. Moreover, Lane contends that when public employees, and all citizens, respond to subpoenas, they are performing a duty to society and that testimony vindicates a core First Amendment interest.
Respondent Burrow concedes that the Eleventh Circuit erred in holding that Lane’s speech was entirely unprotected. Burrow contends that the Eleventh Circuit did not follow the practical analysis required by Garcetti, but instead applied an overly broad scope and held that an employee’s testimony will not be protected if it involves facts learned on the job.Burrow posits that the Eleventh Circuit’s faulty ruling arose from a misunderstanding about the facts of the Garcetti case. In Garcetti, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment did not protect the employee’s speech because the employee was paid to write the speech which he then claimed to be protected. However, other Supreme Court holdings show that employee speech does not lose protection simply because it concerns the subject matter of employment. Therefore, the fact-based analysis called for by Garcettishows that Lane’s speech was not made pursuant to his official duties. Additionally, Burrow agrees that although what constitutes a public concern is less than clear, Lane’s testimony obviously fell within the scope as it was integral to exposing and proving Schmitz’s corrupt scheme.
Although, Burrow agrees that Lane testified as a citizen on a matter of public concern, Burrow expresses unease that the Court may follow other circuits and develop a per serule treating all subpoenaed testimony by a government employee as a matter of public concern. Instead of a per se rule, Burrow argues that courts should use the same practical analysis employed in assessing other kinds of employee speech. Although some circuits have held that all speech compelled by a subpoena is necessarily speech by a citizen, Burrow contends that the First Amendment should not prevent retaliation in cases where the government is paying employees who may testify as a routine part of their official duties, such as a police officer testifying about traffic stops, and crime scene technicians testifying about processing evidence. If questions arose as to a testifying police officer’s credibility, the mere fact that he was testifying should not prohibit supervisors from evaluating his performance.
Burrow also claims that Lane’s argument that subpoenaed testimony is vindicating a core First Amendment interest would turn the inquiry into a per se rule. Burrow contends that society’s interest in candid testimony should not automatically make all testimony into a matter of public concern. Rather, Burrow states that courts must evaluate both the content and forum to determine whether the speech regards a matter of public concern.
Burrow argues that even though Lane spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern, qualified immunity bars a suit against Franks. Burrow argues that under Supreme Court precedent, qualified immunity shields officials from suits for money damages unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was “clearly established” at the time of the challenged conduct.
Burrow contends that it was not “clearly established” that employees’ testimony about facts relating to employment was protected when Franks fired Lane. Burrow claims that the Eleventh Circuit has consistently followed the rule that involuntary testimony about an employee’s job is broadly unprotected by the First Amendment. For example, Burrow citesMorris v. Crow, where the Eleventh Circuit did not allow a police officer’s testimony to qualify for First Amendment protection because the officer was not speaking as a citizen.In Morris, the officer testified that another officer violated office policy when responding to an emergency. Although Burrow admits that the facts of Morris are distinguishable, Burrow claims that its holding—that involuntary testimony regarding an employee’s job is generally unprotected—dictated the result in this case at the circuit-court level.
Lane argues that in determining qualified immunity the appropriate question is whether Franks could have reasonably believed that he was permitted to retaliate against an employee assisting in a federal corruption prosecution. Lane contends that Eleventh Circuit precedent supported Lane on this question at the time he was terminated. Lane points to Martinez v. City of Opa-Locka, where the Eleventh Circuit found an employee of the city’s purchasing department was retaliated against after she testified that a superior had violated bid procedures to purchase furniture for City Hall. In Martinez, the Eleventh Circuit recognized the plaintiff’s First Amendment claim and denied the defendant qualified immunity. Lane contends that because the facts of Martinez align with this case more closely than those of Morris, and because of the virtual unanimity of the other circuits, no public official in 2009 could reasonably believe that retaliation was constitutional in this case.
This case will significantly impact the development of First Amendment law in the area of retaliation claims. Both parties agree that the determination below should be overturned and that Lane’s speech should be given First Amendment protections because he gave his testimony as a private citizen on a matter of public concern. But Burrow expresses concern about the dangers of creating a per se rule treating all subpoenaed testimony from a public employee as a matter of public concern. She thus argues for a fact-based, case-by-case inquiry into the content and context of the testimony at issue. Lane argues that Franks does not have immunity because he violated a constitutional right that was clearly established by case law in the Eleventh Circuit at the time of Lane’s termination, to which Burrow responds that Eleventh Circuit precedent leaves Lane’s testimony unprotected under the First Amendment or— at the very least—that Franks had not violated clearly established circuit law. Burrow contends that government officials should always be able to follow the law of their circuit without having to predict any future rulings by the Court. The outcome of this case will delineate the standard for assessing whether a public employee’s testimony is protected under the First Amendment, as well as a standard for determining when a public employee has qualified immunity.
Rose Nimkiins Petoskey
Katherine Hinderlie
Stephen Wirth

Ruthann Robson, Constitutional Law Prof Blog, Court Grants Certiorari in Employee First Amendment Case: Lane v. Franks, (Jan. 19, 2014)
Kevin P. McGowan,, Court Will Review First Amendment Case of Employee Fired After Trial Testimony, (Jan. 21, 2014)

Posted by Betsy Combier at 12:27 PM

Greta Hawkins, a Teflon Principal, Says No To a Graduation Song, Again

Greta Hawkins, at left
 Coney Island principal bans another ‘USA song’ from graduation

June 8, 2014
A Coney Island principal has put the kibosh on patriotism — again.
Greta Hawkins and Mike Bloomberg

Greta Hawkins caused a furor when she barred her PS 90 kindergartners from singing “God Bless the USA” at their graduation
ceremony in 2012.

Now she has stopped pre-K kids from singing “Stand Up for the Red, White and Blue” at their June 19 moving-up ceremony.

A class of 4-year-olds was rehearsing the song — which they would belt out while marching into the auditorium waving mini-American flags — when Hawkins halted the patriotic parade.

“You didn’t ask permission to do it,” Hawkins scolded the teachers.

Stunned and disappointed, teachers said the simple, rhyming processional was sung to cheers at a pre-K ceremony several years ago.

“It’s a nice, rousing song,” one said. “The parents got up and clapped and yahooed. The kids waved their flags, and it just got everything going.”

With a bouncy beat, the song begins:

Stand up, stand up, for the red, white and blue.

Stand up, stand up, our flag is passing through.

Our country is our land of
free, our home of law and liberty.

Stand up, stand up, for the red, white and blue.

Hawkins insisted her refusal to allow the song has nothing to do with patriotism.

In an email to The Post, Hawkins said the song was not on a list the teachers had submitted.

The kids will perform several other tunes during the ceremony, including “You Are My Sunshine” and “What a Miracle Am I.”

“Teachers were reminded in meetings and in communiques not to add or remove from what was already approved weeks ago,” Hawkins wrote.

Hawkins also nixed the
little flags, referring to them as unapproved “materials.”

Kids stand for the
Pledge of Allegiance each morning at PS 90. But in September, Hawkins eliminated the daily singing of “America the Beautiful.”

In 2012, when Hawkins silenced “God Bless the USA,” the Lee Greenwood ballad also known as “Proud to Be an American,” she reportedly told teachers it might “offend other cultures.” PS 90 is full of immigrants from Mexico, Pakistan, India, Russia and elsewhere.

She later told Department of Education higher-ups that the lyrics were “too grown up” for 5-year-olds, though she left Justin Bieber’s flirty “Baby” on the
program. The DOE had her yank that one, too.

Last week, a pre-K mom who learned about the slashed song was upset.

“I’m angry about it,” she said. “It’s the American flag. What’s wrong with that? So many soldiers died for it. Why is she against the red, white and blue?”

Her child sings the lyrics at home, the mom said. She called the waving of flags “wonderful.”

Teachers suggested kids could wave flags from other countries as well, but Hawkins dismissed that idea, they said.

Instead, Hawkins and an assistant principal asked the teachers, “Why can’t you do something more modern?”

As of Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, no new song was approved. The assistant principal said the children would enter the auditorium without singing anything.

Principal Greta Hawkins of PS 90 in Coney Island Tampered With Parent Questionnaires

In the vast ocean of stories sweeping the internet this is not the worst that a Principal has done. But the tampering with surveys, votes and grades is so rampant in NYC schools, I thought Sue's story was worth posting.


Betsy Combier

Coney Island principal tampered with parent surveys: staffers
, NY POST, March 16, 2014

A Coney Island school principal who caused a furor by refusing to let kindergartners sing “God Bless the USA” at their graduation is in hot water again — this time for allegedly having an aide tamper with parent questionnaires.
Two staffers at PS 90, the Edna Cohen School, say Greta Hawkins instructed an aide to open envelopes holding Department of Education parent surveys and fill in “bubbles” with a pencil.
Greta Hawkins
“She was ripping open white envelopes that were sealed and bubbling in answers to the survey,” a teacher told The Post.
The DOE prohibits any breach of the confidentiality of the surveys, which rate schools on “academic expectations,” “safety and respect,” “communication” and “engagement.” They help city officials gauge a school’s environment and principal performance.
Last school year, PS 90 received average and below-average scores on its survey, with 76 percent of parents participating. In its last progress report, for 2011-12, PS 90 earned an overall grade of “B” but an “F” in “school environment” based mainly on parent and teacher surveys.
At parent-teacher conferences Tuesday, parents picking up their children’s report cards were also handed surveys. Hawkins said parents who filled them out on the spot would get two “No Homework Passes” for their kids.
When a parent picked up a report card Wednesday, a source said, Hawkins directed a staffer to give her a survey and tell her “the school has no drugs or gangs.” Last year parents cited concerns about both issues.
Parents get a green envelope containing the survey and a white first-class-postage-paid envelope addressed to a processing center in St. Paul, Minn. Parents are supposed to seal their completed surveys in the white envelope, then mail them or leave them for the school to mail.
Two school staffers said that while Hawkins ran a conference Wednesday, they saw the school’s community assistant, Tiffany Starks, in the main office with a box of survey envelopes. Both staffers said they saw Starks open green and white envelopes.
“She broke open the seal of a first-class envelope and altered surveys completed by the parents,” the teacher said.
A video taken by the teacher shows Starks removing a survey and discarding the green envelope. The two staffers do not know what Starks did with the uncompleted surveys.
Asked why she was marking completed surveys, she replied, “I’m just making sure they did it right,” and said she was “fixing” bubbles not filled in properly, according to the second staffer.
Starks admitted she felt uncomfortable with the task but said, “She [Hawkins] told me to do it, so that’s what I’m doing,” according to the staffer.
Reached Thursday night, Starks declined to comment.
Hawkins did not return a call or e-mail seeking an explanation.
DOE spokesman David Peña said officials will investigate.

Brooklyn principal a ‘bully’

UFT District 21 Representative Judy Gerowitz (left) and Chapter Leader Vicky Giasemis outside PS 90,
where Principal Greta Hawkins has drawn the ire of parents and teachers.
“We have a no-bullying rule for the schools,” parent Heidi Rotondo told Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at a District 21 Community Education Council town hall meeting on Jan. 11. “So what are you doing about the principal at PS 90 who’s doing the bullying?”
Walcott dodged the question, insisting he couldn’t deal with “personnel specifics publicly.”
Rotondo was one of more than two dozen parents from Coney Island’s PS 90 who turned out at the town hall meeting to complain about Greta Hawkins, the principal since September 2009 and a New York City Leadership Academy grad.
Parents and teachers want her gone.
Organized as the Action Committee to Save PS 90, the parents produced a two-sided flier for the meeting that contained a long list of accusations against Hawkins, including:
  • threatening to report the parents of misbehaving students to the Administration for Children’s Services;
  • chronically underreporting safety incidents; and
  • refusing to account for $3,600 of Title I parent involvement funds from the previous school year.
Numerous special education complaints filed with the UFT over the past two years document how Hawkins allegedly assigned paraprofessionals to do office work or run errands while students went without special education services, thus violating Individualized Education Program mandates. (The network and the principal responded by making corrections.)
Hawkins also has been criticized by staff and parents for closing the school’s library and selling off its books (at 25 cents per book); shutting the school’s state-of the art computer lab, which was funded by local Councilman Domenic Recchia; and ending instrumental music instruction at a school ironically named the School of Performing Arts.

 The Department of Education reprimanded Hawkins and sent her to sensitivity training after investgators from the DOE’s Office of Equal Opportunity found that Hawkins made offensive racial remarks at a June 2010 faculty meeting.
Nine UFT members who attended the mandatory meeting filed a complaint.

Principal Greta Hawkins  (above, left) has drawn the ire of parents and teachers.In their Sept. 8, 2010, findings, the investigators concluded: “By deliberately differentiating herself, a black Jehovah’s Witness, and the previous principal, white and Jewish, in the context of a mandatory staff meeting addressing rumors and discussing hiring and upcoming changes in the school, Principal Hawkins offended multiple staff members.”

Chapter Leader Vicky Giasemis said that many of the teachers who filed the complaint — even though they were not identified by the Office of Equal Opportunity — were removed from their positions.

Hawkins’ critics say she took a healthy school culture and made it toxic.

“She’s not a boss who pushes the staff to work better. She’s a boss who lies to end your career,” said one longtime school veteran, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Hawkins has since singled out the chapter leader for abuse. Giasemis had what she described as a “spotless record” for her first 12 years of teaching. That ended in 2010, when she became the school’s union representative, she said.

“Immediately the retaliation started,” Giasemis said. “All of a sudden I became incompetent and abusive.” Hawkins wrote her up multiple times and gave her a U-rating.

Among the formal grievances pending against Hawkins, District 21 Representative Judy Gerowitz said, was one brought by 13 members accusing Hawkins of micromanaging the format of the lesson plans.

In a case in point, Hawkins’ Jan. 30 school newsletter The Monday Message contained “a fourth reminder” in which she spelled out in minute detail what lesson plans must include. Gerowitz noted that the UFT contract stipulates that supervisors cannot require a particular lesson plan format unless a teacher received a U-rating, or has been given a formal warning of a possible U-rating.

The chapter leader herself has filed grievances charging Hawkins with disciplining her for carrying out union duties.

Still, Giasemis doesn’t heap all the blame on Hawkins.

“It’s the DOE’s doing,” said Giasemis. “They want to break the schools one school at a time.”

Eddie Calderon-Melendez, Former CEO of Williamsburg Charter School and Believe HS Network, Pleads Guilty To $70K Tax Fraud

Eddie Calderon-Melendez

Ex-charter school CEO admits $70K tax fraud

Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the founder and former CEO of the beleaguered Williamsburg Charter High School and Believe High Schools Network, has pleaded guilty to receiving over $1.4 million in compensation and unreimbursed personal charges on the school’s credit card from 2005 to 2010, though he never filed a tax return and failed to pay over $70,000 in taxes.
Nearly all of Calderon-Melendez’s compensation during the covered period came, directly or indirectly, from taxpayer-funded charter schools.
As a result of the plea, he admitted to an E felony for repeated failure to file his NY tax returns and will have to pay back all of the taxes he owes, which amounts to over $200,000 including penalties and interest. The New York State Attorney General’s Office also recommended a sentence of incarceration. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 22.
The plea follows an indictment secured in Kings County Supreme Court, charging Calderon-Melendez with 11 felony counts: two counts of Repeated Failure to File Personal Income and Earnings Taxes; two counts of Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree; one count of Criminal Tax Fraud in the Fourth Degree; four counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence; one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree; and one count of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.
“While earning a six-figure salary funded largely by taxpayer dollars, the defendant robbed the state of New York of much-needed revenue when he failed to pay his taxes for six years in a row,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “Today’s plea sends the message that tax cheats and those who violate the public trust will be held accountable.”
Last year, the state Department of Education revoked Williamsburg Charter’s charter because it did not move fast enough to separate itself from Calderone-Melendez, who had been arrested in April. However, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek ruled that the department’s action was  “riddled with inconsistencies and lacks a certain level of transparency.”