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.
Almost two years after she was removed from the
classroom for "improper coaching" during a state exam, a fourth grade
Osborne Elementary School teacher says she still doesn't know what she's
accused of. LINK
Rye teacher Carin Mehler was reassigned to work
from her home by the Rye School district. She is shown in the dining area of
her Rye home Jan. 7, 2015 where she uses a tablet to work on lesson plans. She
says the district is yet to bring charges against her, and district taxpayers
are paying her full salary and benefits to keep her at home.(Photo: Joe
Larese/The Journal News)
RYE –Almost two years after she was removed from the classroom for
"improper coaching" during a state exam, a fourth grade Osborne
Elementary School teacher says she still doesn't know what she's accused of.
Carin Mehler is being paid $150,000 to $200,000
in salary and benefits while the school district decides what formal charges to
bring against her, according to her lawyer, Arthur Schwartz. The lack of a
charge has prevented the tenured teacher from having a state-required
administrative hearing that will determine her future.
"I don't know what I did wrong,"
Mehler said in an exclusive interview with The Journal News - her first public
statement since she and three other teachers were reassigned in May 2013.
"They never questioned me, never asked me to explain anything. And I have
no way of defending myself."
In Mehler's case, the district never clarified
the allegation with a formal charge. For about a year, she was assigned to a
room by herself, stacking books according to grade level, in what the Rye
Teachers Union described as "solitary confinement."
This year, she's been told to stay home during
school hours and make fourth grade lesson plans. Mehler says she doesn't know
if the district is actually using any of her work.
"They don't even acknowledge my
emails," she said.
On Thursday, Rye district spokeswoman Sarah Derman, said
she didn't know when charges might be filed.
In the 2013-14 school year, after the four
teachers werereassigned for improper
coaching, the board contracted with four
"leave-replacement" teachers at a total $272, 834, to fill their
By September, the district had settled with the
other reassigned teachers.
Asked how much was being spent to fill Mehler's
spot this school year, Derman said that it was not a "seat for seat
exchange per se," but that the annual average salary of the leave
replacements at Osborn is approximately $68,000, plus the cost of health
While the district hasn't filed formal charges,
it didrespondto Mehler'sfederal lawsuitlast year, saying that a parent had expressed
concern about her child receiving help during the state assessments. The
district also claimed that at least four students gave specific and detailed
examples of how Mehler assisted them.
"Mehler reviewed the students' answers and suggested
to students that they may want to change their answers, told students to add
more detail to their answers and to check spelling, capitals and punctuations,
told students to make their essays longer and explain things better, told
students they did not need a protractor for questions and told students they
did not need to measure to answer certain questions," the district said.
Mehler denied the allegation.
"I have always followed the testing
protocol strictly," she said, adding that it was ludicrous to think that
9-year-olds interviewed days after the alleged incident could be accurate,
particularly when they had taken a slew of practice tests before the actual
Rye Teachers Union President Jamie Zung said
last year that schools Superintendent Frank Alvarez tried to persuade parents
to let their children be interviewed almost a year after the alleged incident.
In New York City, teachers must be formally
charged under section 3020-a within 60 days from being reassigned for
misconduct. For the rest of the state, the districts have three years to bring
charges, said Arthur Schwartz, Mehler's attorney.
"They could not treat Carin this way in New
York City," said Schwartz.
Mehler, a North Rockland High School graduate
who grew up in Thieles, said the episode had taken a toll on her family and her
"My mother lives in Rockland and my in-laws
live in New Rochelle. It is embarrassing for all of us," she said, adding
that the situation has caused a lot of anxiety for her youngest daughter, a
fifth-grader at Osborn.
"Teaching is all know," Mehler said.
"I miss it so much. My biggest career goal was to be named 'Teacher of The
Year' and to think that I might never teach again is heartbreaking. They can
keep me out of the classroom forever if they want."
Boukje van den Bosch-Smits, an Osborn parent who
has been a stalwart champion of Mehler's, has regularly demanded answers at
school board meetings.
"They are dumping our money into the ocean
and keeping a great teacher away from her classroom," she said.
Shannon Gold, a fourth-grade teacher at Milton
who had been reassigned,resigned last January.
Gail Topol, a third-grade teacher at Osborn,returned to the classroom in
Februaryafter paying a fine of
$2,500 and converting 27 days of her administrative reassignment to a paid
suspension. Dana Coppola, who returned to the classroom in September, was fined
$18,000 as part of a settlement.
Coppola, a third-grade teacher at Milton
Elementary School, had been part of Mehler's federal and state lawsuits, but
dropped out as part of her settlement; the state case was dismissed last month.
Mehler said that the district's delaying tactics
are meant to coerce her into a settlement, but that she won't back down.
Topol and Coppola agreed to pay fines in
exchange for being reinstated, she said, but she won't consider that option.
"I am not paying a dime for something I
didn't do," Mehler said.