A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by these actions and programs. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, people who have been re-assigned from their life and career. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
TheDepartment of Educationhas placed up to 50 students into some of the rooms — where parents worry there is too much noise and too many distractions for kids to learn — while officials have refused to let the school use adjacent DOE conference roomsthat often sit empty during the school day, parents said.
“Our kids' education is being disrupted right under the nose of Chancellor Fariña,” said Peck Slip School parent Amanda Byron Zink. “Shame on her for not giving us space, space that we can see is empty nearly every day.”
The PeckSlipSchool launched in the fall of 2012 with kindergarten classes at Tweed Courthouse, where Fariña and the DOE have their offices. The school has continued using the temporary space while its permanenthome inthe South Street Seaport is under construction.
This year, the school’s two classes of first-graders are being forced to share one room, as are the school’s oldest students, its two classes of second-graders. Each expansive, high-ceilinged classroom ispartitionedby thin, 6-foot-tall cubicle dividers — not nearly enough of a barrier to keep the goings-on of each class, with about 25 students apiece, separate, parents say.
“We were horrified when we saw the space,” said Peck Slip PTA member Paul Feldsher, whose twins, both second-graders, sit on opposite sides of the partition each day. “You hear everything that’s happening on the other side. It’s totally distracting, for the teachers and the kids.”
Feldsher said his kids sometimes come home talking about what they heard the other class doing.
"It's just confusing and distracting for them, and unnecessary," he said.
The PTA has sent two letters to Fariña and the DOE, “imploring” the department to allow the students to use two conference rooms on the first floor of the building, where the school has its classrooms.
“This may be an inconvenience to the Department of Education (though we are aware that there is at least one enormous conference room on the second floor of Tweed)," the PTA wrote in its most recent letter to the DOE, dated Sept. 29. “But on the other hand, it’s an embarrassing and cruel irony that the department whose mandate it is to provide the best possible education for our children would not immediately agree to this obvious solution.”
Since the school will be moving to its new 712-student space in the fall of 2015, parents argue that even if there is some inconvenience to the DOE, it would only be for another eight months.
“It's inconvenient for all of us to be in this space,” said PTA co-president Kerry McAleer. “We can’t wait to get into our school, and have a playground, have a gymnasium — but why can’t we all agree to do what’s best for our kids right now, for just a couple more months.”
Parents said they have not gotten a response from the DOE yet, though they’ve been told informally that a deputyschools chancellor has agreed to take a look at the Peck Slip classrooms.
“We don’t understand why Chancellor Fariña, who is literally right above the classrooms, wouldn’t just come down and see what’s going on,” said Feldsher. “People always complain about the DOE’s mismanagement of space, while many, many of our schools are suffering from overcrowding — and here’s mismanagement of space happening right where the DOE lives.”
The DOE told DNAinfo New York that the school's classrooms were partitioned to accommodate an extrakindergarten class, something the community had requested. There is no additional space for students left in the building, officials said.
"Students thrive when they are able to learn in a safe and exciting learning environment, and the DOE works to ensure we provide this environment for all our students," said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield in an emailed statement. "Next September, students at Peck Slip will move into a new, state-of-the art building in Lower Manhattan, in the meantime the school will continue in DOE space.”
I am always fascinated by disparate treatment, political cronyism and other such corrupt practices. The public needs to know these events, and assess their elected officials based upon how these leaders resolve the issues.
Here, we have the wife of the Mayor and the Mayor of New York City, not disciplining the Assistant hired at $170,000+ to assist the mayor's wife after the media finds out that the assistant did not disclose that she is living with a convicted killer and cop basher.
In 2004 when our current Chancellor Carmen Farina was working with the Bloomberg Administration, Diana Lam, Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning for the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”), was found to have put her husband in a position at the DOE without going through the Conflicts of Interest Board first. Lam resigned, and General Counsel Chad Vignola was let go.
The De Blasio administration is not going to do anything about this.
Mayor de Blasio on Friday defended the hiring of his wife’s chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, despite her long live-in relationship with convicted killer and cop-hater Hassaun McFarlan.
“I have full faith in Rachel,” de Blasio said on Friday at City Hall.
“You don’t fire people because of something their boyfriend said. That’s ludicrous.
“I have absolute faith in her and I know what I value and she values the same thing.”
McFarlan, who has been Noerdlinger’s beau for six years, has a long criminal history. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter for shooting an 18-year-old rival over a down jacket when he was 15, an official source confirmed.
He was sentenced to four years in prison on interstate cocaine trafficking charges in Bristol County, Mass., and was released in 2007.
McFarlan was charged with marijuana possession in 2012 and spent seven days in jail in 2011 for driving with a suspended license, records state.
His most recent brush with the law was last November, when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, after he was accused of running a cop off the road in Edgewater, NJ,. with Noerdlinger’s Mercedes.
McFarlan, 36, also has made his hatred for cops clear, calling them “pigs” on Facebook many times.
PBA President Patrick Lynch called for Noerdlinger’s firing, out of “serious concern” the information that she hears at high-level NYPD CompStat sessions could be passed along to a hardened felon.
But de Blasio stood by Noerdlinger, 43, a former press aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton who makes $170,000 as First Lady Chirlane McCray’s top adviser. He swatted away questions over whether he should dismiss her as guilt by association.
“Respectfully, I think the question you’re asking is the wrong question. We don’t care what someone’s boyfriend said, we care what the public servant’s about,” he said.
“She’s very dedicated to the work of bringing police and community together and that’s what we care about.”
Some political insiders see a double standard.
Last year, during his transition period, de Blasio canned Lis Smith as his spokeswoman after The Post revealed she was dating the still-married and disgraced ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
McFarlan’s criminal history was not news to the mayor and McCray, according to a City Hall aide.
“Rachel was very candid from the beginning,” the aide said. Additional reporting by Kathleen Cullitonand Aaron Feis
Rachel Noerdlinger, Bill DeBlasio, Chirlane McCray, and Al Sharpton
Inset: Noerdlinger and Hassaun McFarlan
First lady Chirlane McCray’s chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, did not disclose that she was living with convicted killer Hassaun McFarlan when she submitted her Department of Investigation background check to the city, The Post has learned.
According to the DOI questionnaire, omissions could lead to disciplinary actions or even criminal charges.
The DOI has opened an investigation into the matter.
A City Hall spokesman said “no action” has been taken against Noerdlinger, who lives in Edgewater, NJ, with McFarlan and her teenage son.
“She comes to work every day committed to serving the people of our city across the five boroughs on the critical issues that matter,” spokesman Phil Walzak said.
The new revelations were blasted by police union head Patrick J. Lynch, who said public servants should be held to the same standard as others.
“If it is found that she committed a lie of omission during the investigation, then she should be fired,” Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement.
“The standards that apply to hiring police officers should apply equally to hiring high-ranking, influential staff members.”
De Blasio, meanwhile, has come under a firestorm of criticism for keeping Noerdlinger on the payroll despite her boyfriend’s criminal past.
“I have full faith in Rachel,” the mayor said last week at City Hall.
“You don’t fire people because of something their boyfriend said. That’s ludicrous.”
McFarlan has a rap sheet that includes homicide, conspiring to run a cocaine operation and nearly running a police officer off the road near Noerdlinger’s home in Edgewater last year.
In the incident with the officer, McFarlan pleaded down to disorderly conduct.
The ex-con also wrote sickening comments on the blog Hip Hop News 24-7 that talked about violence and demeaned women.
“Trying to find the right black woman with a mean [oral sex] game is like trying to find a black woman with good credit,” he wrote in March 2011.
He also repeatedly referred to cops as “pigs” on social media
It was also revealed this week that although Noerdlinger won special approval to live in New Jersey by claiming her son was injured, the strapping young man had fully recovered and even played linebacker for his high school football team.
Noerdlinger — who did not reply to a request for comment — claimed her 17-year-old son, Khari, suffered devastating injuries in two cars crashes.
But the aspiring rapper played nine games and racked up 41 tackles and two sacks during the last school year’s season.
Hon. Joel I. Klein
New York City Public Schools
Department of Education
52 Chambers Street, Room 314
New York, NY 10007
SCI Case #2003-2206
Dear Chancellor Klein:
An investigation conducted by this office
has found that Diana Lam, Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning for the
New York City Department of Education (“DOE”), assisted her husband, Peter
Plattes, in gaining employment with the DOE in the position of a Regional
Instructional Specialist (“RIS”). When Plattes lost that position
because a conflict of interest issue was raised, Lam then supported his
decision to apply for a teaching position. In both instances, Lam failed
to request the appropriate waiver or obtain approval. Our investigation
revealed that there was no public waiver document issued by the New York City
Conflicts of Interest Board.
In August 2003, this office initiated the
investigation into a possible conflict of interest in the employment of Plattes
after newspaper articles reported on his DOE position and his relationship to
Plattes as a RIS
As Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and
Learning, Diana Lam supervises all instructional staff, including RISs.
To review the circumstances of the alleged employment of her husband by the
DOE, investigators examined documentary evidence and interviewed a number of
employees involved in the process.
Judith Chin, who is the Regional
Superintendent for Region 3 and reports directly to Lam, was among the first
individuals whom Lam approached regarding her husband’s employment.
According to Chin, sometime in 2003, Diana Lam asked her to explain the
procedures one needed to follow in order to become a teacher and/or an
administrator in the New York City public school system. Chin
stated that while discussing the necessary steps with Lam, the Deputy
Chancellor indicated that her husband was interested in gaining such
employment. Chin and Lam decided that Lam would have her husband
call to arrange a meeting with Chin who agreed to assist Lam’s husband with the
application and certification processes. As a result, when Lam’s
husband, Peter Plattes, came to her office on March 26, 2003, Chin had her
staff assist him. According to Chin, a number of weeks later she
provided Plattes’s resume to Laura Rodriguez, Regional Superintendent for
Region 2. Chin explained that she had filled all her RIS positions and
had already sent a personnel list to one of Lam’s assistants and possibly to
Lam herself. However, during an exchange of candidates’ resumes amongst
the various regional superintendents, she came upon Plattes’s and handed it to
Rodriguez because she was aware that Rodriguez was looking to fill a bilingual
position. Chin stated that she advised Rodriguez of Plattes’s
relationship to the Deputy Chancellor. Chin indicated that she would have
felt uncomfortable if she had interviewed the husband of her immediate
Investigators examined Plattes’s DOE
employment application, which indicated that Chin had approved it.
However, Chin stated that she did not place her authorization signature on
Plattes’s application. Instead, she suspected that one of her staff
members, Jean Ruchala, former Deputy Director for the Office of Recruitment,
must have done so since Chin had requested that Ruchala assist Plattes in
processing his paperwork. Chin explained that her approval was
necessary because Plattes’s application indicated that he was requesting a
teaching license in the area of social studies, which was not a shortage
area. Moreover, Plattes apparently did not possess sufficient
credentials to obtain a bilingual teaching certification, which was considered
a shortage area. Chin explained that an application for
non-shortage areas would be held in abeyance and not processed until there was
such a shortage or it had been otherwise approved.
Laura Rodriguez, Superintendent for
Region 2, who was hired for her current position by Lam, interviewed Peter
Plattes for a RIS position, which paid approximately $102,000 per
year. Rodriguez explained that she submitted Plattes’s name, along
with those of others she wished to hire, to Lam and Chancellor Joel Klein for
their approval and that, at a meeting of regional superintendents, Klein
informed her that all submitted candidates were acceptable. Rodriguez
stated that Plattes was then offered the RIS position, subsequently accepted
it, and officially began his employment with the DOE on July 1, 2003.
Rodriguez stated that just prior to
August 1, 2003, Chad Vignola, General Counsel for the DOE, advised her that
there was a possibility that Plattes would no longer be working for the
DOE. According to Rodriguez, shortly after her conversation with
Vignola, Plattes advised her that he could not continue working as a RIS.
Superintendent Rodriguez along with Eric
Nadelstern, Deputy Regional Superintendent for Region 2, interviewed Plattes
for a paid position. According to Nadelstern, Plattes was hired for
the RIS position and he was assigned to work with Lorraine Skeen, a Local
Instructional Superintendent (“LIS”) for Region 2. Nadelstern stated that
around August 1, 2003, Rodriguez informed him that Plattes would no longer be
working at Region 2.
LIS Lorraine Skeen confirmed Plattes’s
employment. She provided investigators with a number of documents
relating to Plattes, including: a Region 2 RIS roster listing Plattes’s name,
home address and phone number as well as his office extension; a Region 2
telephone directory containing Plattes’s name and indicating his position as a
RIS; a Region 2 summer calendar contact sheet containing Plattes’s name; a
Region 2 workshop agenda containing Plattes’s name; and several inter-office
e-mails sent to Plattes. According to Skeen, Nadelstern advised her that
she and Plattes would be working together and that Plattes is Lam’s
husband. Skeen stated that she began working with Plattes sometime in
June or July of 2003 and that they were involved in the training of Region 2
Dr. Joyce Coppin, former Chief Executive
of the Division of Human Resources for the DOE, also was approached by
Lam. According to Coppin, sometime in July 2003, Lam handed her an
envelope bearing Plattes’s name and stated “these are my husband’s. Can
you take them back [to the Human Resources offices] with you?”
Coppin stated that she turned the envelope over to JoAnn Molter-Fuentes,
Director of the
Office of Supervisory Support Staff. Coppin added that a few weeks
later Lam requested that she deliver a second envelope to
Molter-Fuentes. According to Coppin, Lam stated “these are Peter’s
papers, I think everything is there.”
Coppin stated that around the first week
of August 2003, she participated in a conference call with Laverne Srinivasan,
Deputy Chancellor of Operations for the DOE, and Chad Vignola, General Counsel
for the DOE. According to Coppin, Srinivasan questioned “has Peter
Plattes been processed for payroll yet?” and then directed “if not, put it on
hold.” Coppin stated that she instructed Molter-Fuentes to stop the
payroll process immediately and then advised Srinivasan and Vignola that the
paperwork had been halted. Coppin added that Srinivasan then questioned
“has [Plattes] been paid yet?” and “will the system show that he was being
paid?” According to Coppin, she advised Srinivasan and Vignola that
Plattes’s information had not been entered into the system, therefore his name
would not appear.
Coppin told investigators that two or
three days later Lam approached her and stated, “I am sorry that you and your office
had to be put through this thing…I sent an e-mail to Chad [Vignola] regarding
[my husband’s employment] to find out if there would be any
issues.” Coppin stated that on a subsequent occasion at the Tweed
Courthouse Building, she returned Plattes’s application and related documents
JoAnn Molter-Fuentes explained the RIS
application process to investigators. According to Molter-Fuentes,
applications for the RIS position were submitted both through the mail and over
the Internet and that the documents then were sorted and distributed to the
various Superintendents’ Offices. Molter-Fuentes stated that once
an applicant accepted the position, payroll documentation, including a vacancy
control form (“VCF”) and a 9902 form, was processed. According to
Molter-Fuentes, she received an envelope from Coppin which contained Plattes’s
paperwork, including his application and transcripts. Molter-Fuentes
explained that Plattes could not be placed into the payroll system until he
either was certified or was deemed eligible for certification as a school
administrator by the New York State Education Department (“SED”).
Molter-Fuentes stated that when she contacted the SED in order to determine the
status of Plattes’s school administrator’s certification, she was advised that
one college transcript had to be submitted to complete the process.
In anticipation of Plattes receiving his certification, Molter-Fuentes
instructed Maria Quinones, Human Resources Manager for Region 1 and 2, to enter
a VCF and 9902 in order to expedite his placement on the payroll.
However, on or about August 1, 2003, Coppin contacted her and directed her not
to process Plattes’s payroll documents. Molter-Fuentes stated that
she then contacted her Deputy Administrator for the Office of Supervisory
Support Services, Carol LaBozzetta, and instructed her to delete Plattes’s VCF
from the system and to retrieve his 9902 form.
Maria Quinones also was involved in
processing Plattes’s paperwork. According to Quinones, sometime in July
2003, she received an e-mail from Molter-Fuentes directing her to place Plattes
on the payroll, therefore, she instructed her staff to complete a VCF and a
9902 form. In the e-mail, Molter-Fuentes advised Quinones that
Plattes is Lam’s husband. Quinones interpreted this information to
mean that Plattes should be entered into the payroll system immediately so she
made certain that her staff completed the necessary paperwork without
delay. According to Quinones, within a day or two she was contacted
by someone from Molter-Fuentes’s office and directed not to process Plattes’s
payroll paperwork. As a result, she disposed of her copy of Plattes’s
Carol LaBozzetta explained her
involvement with Plattes’s paperwork. According to LaBozzetta, sometime
between the end of July 2003 and the beginning of August 2003, she entered a
VCF into the system under Plattes’s name and sent the 9902 form for
processing. However, the following day, Molter-Fuentes directed her
to retrieve the 9902 form and delete the VCF information from the
system. According to LaBozzetta, she recovered Plattes’s paperwork
and placed it in Molter-Fuentes’s office.
David Schacher, Ethics Officer for the
DOE, was not contacted about Plattes’s position with the DOE, instead Lam told
him about her husband’s employment almost as an afterthought.
Schacher explained that during a July 18, 2003 meeting with Lam to discuss an
unrelated matter, she mentioned to him that her husband was hired at one of the
Regional Operations Centers and that she had supervisory authority over
him. According to Schacher, Lam claimed that she had no involvement in
the hiring of her husband and she asserted that no one was aware of their
relationship. During the conversation, Lam failed to provide her
husband’s name or his work site and Schacher neglected to request the
information. However, following the meeting, Schacher examined Lam’s
disclosure documents and discovered that her husband’s name was Peter Plattes.
He then conducted a check of the DOE e-mail directory system which revealed
that Plattes was a RIS in Region 2. Schacher immediately advised Vignola
via e-mail of the information he had uncovered.
Chad Vignola confirmed learning about
Plattes’s position with the DOE from Schacher. Although he had two brief
conversations with Lam, Vignola stated that he was unaware that Plattes had
even applied for a job. Instead, Lam suggested that her husband might be
interested in seeking employment with the DOE, to which he replied that he did
not foresee a problem, but that there was a process that had to be followed
because she could not supervise him. Vignola stated that on July
18, 2003, he first learned from Schacher that Plattes had been hired in Region
2 as a RIS and he later learned that Plattes had been working for several
weeks. Although Lam claimed that she had nothing to do with her husband’s
hiring, Vignola was advised by Coppin that Lam had directed her to deliver
Plattes’s paperwork to the Human Resources office.
Vignola asserted that on July 24th or
25th he and Srinivasan advised Lam that her husband could not hold the RIS
position. However, no apparent steps were taken to achieve that end
– including notifying Laura Rodriguez – until July 31st, the date of the media
In an interview with investigators, Peter
Plattes stated that Diana Lam is his wife. Plattes acknowledged that Lam
assisted him in his quest to gain employment with the DOE by providing him with
Chin’s name and telephone number and instructing him to meet with her.
Plattes confirmed that Rodriguez and
Nadelstern interviewed him for a RIS position in Region 2, he was offered the
position, and he accepted it. Thereafter, he attended optional
meetings/training sessions in order to prepare himself for his official start
date of July 1, 2003. Plattes acknowledged that when he started working
as a RIS on July 1, 2003, he expected to receive compensation from the DOE
effective that date.
Plattes claimed that he was unaware that
his wife submitted documents on his behalf to the DOE and asserted that he had
submitted his transcripts directly to the SED and not through the DOE.
Although Plattes declared that he did not utilize DOE staff to channel his
transcripts to the SED, Molter-Fuentes had advised Plattes that she would send
those documents to the SED to complete his certification application.
Therefore, on July 23, 2003, Plattes faxed his transcripts to Molter-Fuentes
who, in turn, faxed them to the SED. Moreover, Plattes sent a note to
Molter-Fuentes, dated August 14, 2003, which stated that he had decided not to
pursue an administrative position at this time, but would still like to obtain
his supervisory certification. Plattes enclosed an additional transcript
for Molter-Fuentes to forward to the SED. According to Plattes, his
social studies certification to teach was the only one that he received from
the SED, adding that he did not receive an administrator’s certification because
he failed to submit one transcript.
In an interview with investigators, Lam
stated that her husband is Peter Plattes. Lam asserted that after her
husband advised her that he wished to pursue employment at the DOE she
contacted Vignola. Lam stated that she probably had another
conversation with Vignola after Plattes was offered the position, but she did
not remember the details of the discussion.
Lam admitted that she contacted Chin on
her husband’s behalf and that, as a result, Plattes went to see Chin. Lam
acknowledged that she asked Coppin to deliver her husband’s documents to the
Human Resources offices. However, she denied receiving Plattes’s
paperwork back from Coppin.
Lam stated that she sent Chancellor Klein
an e-mail indicating that her husband had been selected for employment as a RIS
with the DOE, but admitted that she did not receive a response to her e-mail
and failed to discuss the issue with Klein.
Lam maintained that she first learned
that there might be a problem in the supervisory chain after she advised
Schacher of her husband’s employment. Thereafter, Srinivasan and Vignola
told her that Klein was uncomfortable with Plattes’s employment as a RIS.
Lam claimed that when she informed her husband of the Chancellor’s feelings,
Plattes expressed that he was no longer interested in the paid administrative
position, but wanted to continue without compensation. According to Lam,
Plattes did not “quit,” since he had not received a written notice that he had
been hired. Instead, Lam maintained that she advised Vignola and
Srinivasan that Plattes had “reconsidered taking the offered position.”
Lam later acknowledged that, although
there was no written notification, Plattes had received a phone call in which
he was offered the RIS position. She admitted that Plattes accepted the
paid position, attended a number of optional training sessions in June, began
working July 1st, and expected to receive compensation for his work. Lam
agreed that she disclosed her husband’s employment to Schacher in a July
meeting. She also conceded that Plattes vacated the RIS position only
after she was advised of the Chancellor’s opinion.
Plattes as a Teacher
In the course of investigating the
employment of Plattes as a RIS, we discovered that, after leaving that
position, he was hired by the DOE as a teacher. Consequently, we expanded
our investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding that action.
In September 2003, investigators
conducted a background check on Plattes, which found that on August 31, 2003,
he was listed in the DOE computer system as a teacher assigned to the Bronx
Guild High School (“Guild”). The review also showed that on September 8,
2003, the computer system was adjusted to reflect that Plattes would no longer
be teaching. However, a DOE payroll check was automatically generated for
Plattes for the period covering September 1, 2003 through September 15, 2003.
Peter Steinberg, Director of the Bronx
New Century High Schools, was instrumental in Plattes’s placement at the
Guild. Steinberg explained that in the middle of August 2003, Principal
Michael Soguero contacted him regarding a vacancy at the Guild and Steinberg
provided Plattes’s information to Soguero. According to Steinberg,
after he learned that Plattes was hired as a teacher he informed Nadelstern and
a few days later Nadelstern advised him that Plattes would have to vacate the
Soguero confirmed that in middle to late
August 2003, he contacted Steinberg regarding a teaching vacancy.
According to Soguero, Steinberg suggested that Plattes could fill the
position. Soguero stated that he hired Plattes for a teaching
position and that Plattes attended optional professional development meetings
the last week of August 2003. Soguero explained that on August 28, 2003,
Plattes informed him that he could no longer work at the school because “the
Chancellor’s Office was worried about the appearance of a conflict of
Dino Martinez, Supervising School Aide at
the Guild, confirmed Plattes’s intention to work at the school. He
reported that Soguero hired Plattes in late August 2003, to fill a teaching
position and that thereafter Plattes attended staff development meetings held
during the week of August 25, 2003. According to Martinez, on September
2, 2003, Soguero advised him that Plattes would not be returning to the Guild
and that the school would have to fill his vacancy. Martinez stated that
he received Plattes’s paycheck, dated September 15, 2003, at the school.
Martinez turned over this paycheck to investigators from this
Sharon Dawkins, Personnel Team Member for
Region 1 and 2, was involved in processing Plattes’s paperwork for the Guild
position. She explained that on August 21, 2003, Soguero sent an e-mail
nominating Plattes for employment as a social studies teacher. According
to Dawkins, Plattes’s information was then entered into the computer system in
order to process his payroll. Dawkins stated that sometime in early
September 2003, she received a telephone call from Martinez who stated that
“Plattes cannot work here because it’s a conflict of interest, take him off.”
In late September 2003, during an
interview with investigators concerning Plattes’s employment as a RIS, Vignola
first learned that Lam’s husband had been hired as a teacher for the
DOE. According to Vignola, Lam never informed him that her husband
had obtained a paid teaching position. Instead, Vignola reported that at
some point, probably during the 3rd or 4th week of August, Lam told him that
her husband was “volunteering” as a teacher, with an eye toward obtaining a
position. Vignola stated that he reminded Lam that she needed to check
with the Chancellor before Plattes could pursue that type of position with the
DOE even though it would be unpaid. Vignola conceded that volunteers do
not get paychecks from the DOE and agreed that if Plattes had been issued a
paycheck that would have meant that the DOE had hired him. Vignola
acknowledged that it would be a waste of resources for Plattes to continue to
seek a position within the DOE until a decision as to the propriety of such
employment had been made.
Deputy Chancellor of Operations Laverne
Srinivasan also was surprised to learn of Plattes’s employment as a
teacher. According to Srinivasan, Lam was advised that a teaching
position might be appropriate, but she was not told to pursue such an avenue.
Srinivasan was unaware until after this
investigation began that Plattes had accepted a teaching assignment and that a
DOE paycheck had been generated.
Plattes asserted that Lam informed him
that he had approval to pursue a teaching position. Plattes received
Soguero’s name from Steinberg and contacted him. In anticipation of
starting to teach on September 2, 2003, Plattes attended optional training
sessions. However, a few days before he expected to begin working, his
wife told him that a teaching position also was unacceptable. He
explained that he then notified Soguero that he would be unable to work as a
teacher at the Guild.
Lam stated that it was her understanding
that a teaching position was acceptable for her husband to pursue. Lam
claimed that Srinivasan or Vignola later advised her that her husband could not
hold a teaching position.
Chancellor Joel Klein was not informed
that Plattes had been hired as a teacher. According to the Chancellor,
when Lam inquired as to the possibility of her husband gaining employment as a
teacher, he told her to check with the New York City Conflicts of Interest
Board. He explained that he was unaware that Plattes had actually applied
for and been offered a teaching position before such a conferral had occurred.
Plattes as a Volunteer
After DOE officials determined that
Plattes’s employment by the DOE was inappropriate, the issue became how to
explain the situation given the media inquiry. A decision was made to
remove Plattes’s information from the DOE’s Human Resource system, have him
“donate” his services, and label him a “volunteer.” Nevertheless, the
facts remain clear that Plattes was hired by the DOE as a RIS.
Chin stated that at the time she assisted
Plattes, she headed the employee recruitment department, not the volunteer
department, and that she did not believe that Plattes would have been required
to complete the paperwork in her office in order to be a volunteer.
Rodriguez explained that she hired
Plattes to be a RIS. According to Rodriguez, Plattes performed the duties
that were expected of him, she expected him to be compensated for the work he
performed, and at no time was there a discussion that he was volunteering for
the position. Rodriguez maintained that she had hired Plattes as a paid
Srinivasan stated that Rodriguez clearly
offered Plattes a job, which he clearly accepted, but that she was advised by
Coppin that Plattes’s paperwork had not been fully processed. After
a discussion with Vignola, Srinivasan instructed Coppin to stop Plattes’s
paperwork and therefore it was halted.
Srinivasan explained that it was
Chancellor Klein’s position that Plattes’s employment as a RIS was
inappropriate. Consequently, Srinivasan and Vignola explained to Lam
that it was ill-advised for her husband to hold the position. According
to Srinivasan, it was decided that in light of the fact that Plattes’s
paperwork had not been fully processed, the time that the Deputy Chancellor’s
husband had worked should be considered volunteer time. Moreover, it was
agreed that Plattes would forego his earnings for the period that he
worked. She explained that, through Lam, they asked Plattes to donate the
time worked in order “to remove the specter of anything inappropriate.”
It remained unclear to Srinivasan whether
the DOE had ever employed Plattes as a RIS, nevertheless, she acknowledged that
Plattes had not intended to be a volunteer when he began working.
When she was shown the e-mail Vignola sent to her on July 31, 2003, which
stated that “Peter agreed to help out as a volunteer back in June,” Srinivasan
stated that the e-mail was not accurate. Instead, she explained that
after it was determined that he could not keep the position, Plattes’s work for
the DOE was deemed to be volunteer time because Plattes agreed to forego the
pay he was entitled to receive.
In Vignola’s view, because Plattes’s
information had not been put into the payroll system, he was not an employee,
even though he was offered the RIS position, accepted the position, and was
performing the duties associated with the position. According to Vignola,
Rodriguez first learned that Plattes would no longer be working in Region 2
when he told her on July 31st. At that time, Rodriguez advised Vignola
that Plattes’s paperwork had already been sent to Human Resources for
processing. On that same date, Vignola was informed by Coppin that
Plattes’s final paperwork was at her office and he and Srinivasan instructed
her to cease processing it. According to Vignola, “you are not an
employee until we complete the hiring process.” Consequently, at
his direction, the media was told that Plattes had been a volunteer.
Vignola acknowledged that Rodriguez,
Plattes, and Lam believed that Plattes was an employee. Vignola also
conceded that Plattes clearly did not intend to donate his time when he began
working for the DOE in July. Vignola stated that had the hiring process
for Plattes as a RIS been completed he would have gotten paid retroactively to
July 1, 2003. Vignola maintained that when it was determined that the
hiring process had yet to be completed, it was decided that Plattes’s work time
in July should be considered volunteer time. Vignola added that, on
Plattes’s behalf, Lam agreed that the time that Plattes had worked for the DOE
would be deemed volunteer time and that Plattes would forego his earnings for
the period of July. Vignola continued that he was unconcerned with the
status of the paperwork after his discussion with Lam.
According to Chancellor Klein, either
Vignola or Srinivasan informed him that Plattes was volunteering as a RIS at
one of the Regions. He stated that he told Lam that Plattes could not
work in such a position.
Plattes stated that sometime in the
middle of July 2003, he got the impression from his wife that Chancellor Klein
was uncomfortable with him holding the RIS position. Plattes claimed that
in the middle of July 2003 he decided to quit the RIS position but that he kept
“volunteering” until the middle of August 2003. Plattes also
claimed that it was his idea that he would start volunteering.
Nevertheless, Plattes conceded that he accepted the RIS position, was not
volunteering on July 1, 2003, and expected to receive compensation.
However, according to Plattes, he later advised his wife, “I really do not care
if I get paid.”
Plattes acknowledged that he delayed in
notifying Rodriguez that he would be resigning. In fact, he stated that
the subject came up in the middle of an unrelated conversation with
Rodriguez. Plattes stated that he informed Rodriguez that he would
continue until Skeen returned from her vacation.
Lam asserted that she played no role in
the response to media inquiries about her husband’s employment status.
However, Lam acknowledged that when her husband decided not to continue at
Region 2 as an administrator, it was agreed that he would be called a
volunteer. According to Lam, since Plattes was not going to be permitted
to continue in the RIS position, he did not want to get paid for the period
that he had been working. Lam conceded that the information that her
husband had “considered” taking the job, which was provided to the media, was
not accurate and Plattes “actually” had taken the position. Moreover, Lam
refused to say that Plattes “quit” and instead insisted that Plattes
“reconsidered” taking the job after he learned of the Chancellor’s discomfort
with him holding the position.
Based on the testimony of witnesses and
documentary evidence gathered during this investigation, it is clear that Diana
Lam made a concerted effort to obtain employment for her husband with the
DOE. Lam contacted DOE employees on her husband’s behalf and submitted
paperwork in support of his application. Subordinate employees who tried
to expedite Plattes’s hiring flatly contradict Lam’s assertion that no one was
aware of their relationship. We are forwarding our findings for your
information and review. In addition, Lam’s conduct may constitute a
violation of Chapter 68 of the New York City Charter, which is administered by
the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board.
We are forwarding a copy of this report
to the Office of Legal Services. We are also sending our findings to the
State Education Department. Should you have any inquiries regarding the
above, please contact Eileen Daly, the attorney assigned to this case.
She may be reached at (212) 510-1407. Thank you for your attention to
RICHARD J. CONDON
Investigation for the
New York City School District
Regina A. Loughran
First Deputy Commissioner
c: Chad Vignola, Esq.
Theresa Europe, Esq.
Rick Stewart, Auditor General
This is a story of an almost unfathomably mindless school bureaucracy at work: the crushing of an occupational therapist who had helped a young boy build a record of blazing success. The therapist, Deb Fisher, is now serving a suspension of 30 days without pay for official misconduct. Her crime? She raised money on Kickstarter for a program that she and the student, Aaron Philip, 13, created called This Ability Not Disability. An investigator with the Education Department’s Office of Special Investigations, Wei Liu, found that Ms. Fisher sent emails about the project during her workday at Public School 333, the Manhattan School for Children, and was thus guilty of “theft of services.”
I want to add that I have a disdain for bloggers and reporters who ignore wrong-doing in order to please their political allies. In particular, historian Diane Ravitch and blogger Norm Scott would rather take down their respective blogs than mention any article or story ever seen on any of my blogs. Where have both of you been as the investigators, Joel Klein, Cathie Black, Dennis Walcott, and Carmen Farina destroy the lives of excellent, caring teachers and staff since 2002?
As it seems that they have suddenly awakened from a long sleep while too many educators were harmed, and are now looking at the corruption inside the NYC DOE is, I believe, disingenuous, and I don't care how many people bombard me with comments about their ignoring the limitless badness for so many years, and not writing about it simply to ignore my work and that of other bloggers with whom they may have animosity toward for some reason. Let's chat?. We all must expose all the corrupt acts of those who take public money and then attack innocent people, and not let bias get in the way.
Anyway, the story of Aaron Philip and Deb Fisher must be distributed, and we all must take notice that Deb Fisher was wrongfully suspended, yes....and that she would have been fired if she did not have the protection of tenure.
We need to protect the public school teachers like Deb Fisher, and keep tenure rights in New York City, just as we need to get rid of the brown shirts and leadership of the NYC Department of Education. The NYC DOE is not interested in putting the needs and achievement of children above the false charges against innocent people who challenge their fraud and corruption.
This is a story of an almost unfathomably mindless school bureaucracy at work: the crushing of an occupational therapist who had helped a young boy build a record of blazing success.
The therapist, Deb Fisher, is now serving a suspension of 30 days without pay for official misconduct.
She raised money on Kickstarter for a program that she and the student, Aaron Philip, 13, created called This Ability Not Disability. An investigator with the Education Department’s Office of Special Investigations, Wei Liu, found that Ms. Fisher sent emails about the project during her workday at Public School 333, the Manhattan School for Children, and was thus guilty of “theft of services.”
The school system has proved itself unable to dislodge failed or dangerous employees for years at a time.
Ms. Fisher’s case seems to represent just the opposite: A person working to excel is being hammered by an investigative agency that began its hunt in search of cheating on tests and record-keeping irregularities. It found nothing of the sort. Instead, the investigation produced a misleading report, filled with holes, on the fund-raising effort.
By omitting essential context, the report wrongly suggested that Ms. Fisher was a rogue employee, acting alone and in her own self-interest.
In fact, the entire school, including the principal, was involved in the Kickstarter project, with regular email blasts counting down the fund-raising push. And the money was to be used not by Ms. Fisher, but by Aaron, who is writing a graphic book and making a short film about Tanda, a regular kid who is born with a pair of legs in a world where everybody else has a pair of wheels.
Aaron has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to navigate the world. Ms. Fisher has worked with him since kindergarten.
“It’s beyond measure, the greatness, of how she has exposed Aaron to so many things,” Aaron’s father, Petrone Philip, said.
Aaron writes a lively Tumblr blog called Aaronverse. He has addressed all the employees of Tumblr as a guest of David Karp, who created the platform. He was taken under the wing of Fred Seibert, the founder of a hugely successful animation studio, Frederator, who had mentored Mr. Karp when he was a teenager inventing Tumblr. On his blog, Aaron urged Good Housekeeping to make sure that its research arm included disabled children in its testing of toys.
All of this was possible because he is a powerful presence, and he had Ms. Fisher at his side, according to the boy’s father. “She goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Mr. Philip said.
During a brief period of unemployment for Mr. Philip, the family moved to a homeless shelter. Learning this by chance, Ms. Fisher began a relentless campaign to get them permanent housing in an accessible building. She helped set up swimming lessons for Aaron. Ms. Fisher, 55, is passionate and hard-driving; her phone calls and emails can be like buckshot. She and another therapist started “Master Arts” for children with disabilities, devising tools to help their painting efforts. She received a mayoral commendation.
Last year, when Aaron wanted to create the book and the film, he and Ms. Fisher realized he was too young to run his own Kickstarter drive. Instead, Aaron told the investigators, they created an organization to help children like himself.
“We are all very excited to share our partnership with ThisAbilityNotDisability.org,” P.S. 333’s principal, Claire Lowenstein, wrote in an email on Jan. 11.
The goal was to raise $15,000. The school’s office regularly sent out updates like these: “7th Grader Aaron Philip is Almost 2/3 of the Way to His Goal”; “Aaron Philip is $1,621 Away From His Goal.”
In the end, he raised $16,231. The school celebrated at a town hall session.
In the meantime, a co-worker with whom Ms. Fisher had had continuing disagreements made a series of charges against her. Ms. Fisher had complained that the co-worker was physically bullying and taunting her. The special investigators found that none of the serious allegations against Ms. Fisher were true, but said she was guilty of fund-raising for “her own charity.”
The report made no mention that the entire building had been involved with the effort, nor did it try to determine whether Ms. Fisher would profit from it in any way. She was suspended on Sept. 15 until the end of October.
The school disciplinary system is often said to be broken. The case of Ms. Fisher would seem to prove the point.
The Education Department did not comment on the case.
Correction: October 3, 2014
An earlier version of a picture caption with this column misstated what grade Aaron Philip is in at school. He’s in the eighth grade, not the seventh.