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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Carmen Farina and the Chancellor's Strategic Response Group...and Other Useless Ways To Contact the NYC Department of Education

When you have a problem with the New York City Department of Education, who do you go to?
UFT President Mike Mulgrew, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC DOE
Chancellor Carmen Farina
If you are a parent of a child with special needs (an IEP, a 504 Plan, or other related service providers) you would go to the Committee on Special Education for your district.

If you want to ask for an Impartial Hearing to obtain public funding for a private school for your child when the NYC DOE does not give your child a free and appropriate public education, you send an email/letter to the Impartial Hearing Office and to the New York State Education Department. (Full disclosure: I represent parents and children at Impartial Hearings as the Parent Advocate).

For suspensions and Office of Hearings Online (SOHO) database you can contact the Office of Safety and Youth Development (no one will tell you that the SOHO reports exist, parents and teachers are forbidden from seeing these discipline histories even for their own children). See here as well, Chancellor's Regulations A-450. (Full  disclosure: for 9 years I represented parents and their children at suspension hearings, and these hearings are a farce, designed to punish children - especially special needs children - for having a disability. Think about suing.)

For violence in the classroom committed by students:
*if you are an administrator, you contact the Office of Special Investigations by sending an email to them in the Online Occurrence Report (OORS). By doing this, you are setting in motion the process I have written about in my article The Gotcha Squad. When OSI gets involved, their mandate is to create paperwork that says the violence in the classroom was committed by the teacher, not the student. This paperwork will be used in charging the employee if he/she is tenured, with 3020-a; if he/she is a probationary teacher, this person will receive a letter of discontinuance saying that the reason is that he/she harmed a child in his/her classroom. There is no option to receive a hearing within the DOE. The reason is that the NY State Education Department keeps a record and publishes this record of the State's most violent schools. Principals do NOT want to be on the VADIR list. They get bonus points for getting rid of the teacher as the culprit, instead.

*if you are a teacher, the best thing to do if you are assaulted in the classroom or a child is hurt in a fight, is to call 911 and get a police report. You most probably will be charged with something for doing this, but if you dont do it, and the principal gets a report into OORS, you will be charged with committing the harm. It's a catch 22.

And who do you contact if you have a big problem that no one will solve for you? The media.
The TWEED building, NYC DOE headquarters
52 Chambers Street, Manhattan
You thought that I would say UFT President Mike Mulgrew? No, he does not read or reply to any members' emails or letters, unless you have a personal relationship with him. I know. I used to work there.

How about the Chancellor? Carmen Farina, just like her predecessors, has a group at Tweed (DOE Headquarters) who intercept all the mail and email sent to her. It is called the Chancellor's Strategic Response Group:

"About us

As part of the New York City Department of Education, staff in the Chancellor's Strategic Response Group (CSRG) responds to correspondence written to the Chancellor. Staff in the CSRG works on the Chancellor's behalf to research, coordinate and respond to inquiries received from the NYC school community regarding policy and actions of central and district offices, as well as individual schools within the school system. As part of the Department of Communications, CSRG staff also works closely with the Offices of Public and Community Affairs, Intergovernmental Affairs, and Family Engagement to address issues raised by constituents at school/community meetings and events."
The NYPOST Reporter Carl Camanile called this group "Klein's School-Gripe 'SWAT' TEAM'" in 2004. Did I give you that story, Carl?

Julia Levy wrote about this group in 2005:

I had heard about the CSRG for several years before I tried contacting someone there, and I was lucky and actually reached a person who works there.I guess she must have believed that I was an administrator, because she chatted with me for quite a while about how busy the office was, the ridiculous comments and emails she had received in the morning of that day, etc. When I asked her how she decides what to answer or when to send on an important matter to a "higher up", she told me that she just answers everything the same way and it doesn't matter what the email/letter says. Usually the person who sent the email/letter to the Chancellor never re-sends or answers the form reply.

In June, a parent whose child is desperately in need of a new school sent the reply from Ilana Rudolf of CSRG to me after the parent wrote a long plea to Chancellor Farina:

"Thank you for your email to the Chancellor on behalf of your daughter who is a registered student at J.H.S. in Manhattan. We appreciate you sharing your concerns with us.
Upon receipt of your email, I contacted Principal for information. Principal informed me you met with her and Ms. to address the concerns referenced in your letter. It is my understanding that they informed you that as the bullying incidents referenced in your email were unsubstantiated, your daughter does not qualify for a safety transfer. Additionally, Principal told me that your daughter's attendance was discussed at the meeting and school personnel recommended a re-evaluation of your daughter’s Individualized Education Program. However, I understand that you have refused a re-evaluation at this time.

Given that your daughter does not qualify for a safety transfer, I strongly recommend that you continue to work with Principal , the District Family Advocate, Ms. , and school-based personnel, as they are in the best position to address your concerns. Moreover, please be advised that the Department of Education strongly urges parents to ensure that their children are attending school at least 90 percent of the school year, as attendance factors heavily into student progress and promotion.

I hope this information has been helpful. Thank you again for writing to the Chancellor, and I wish you and your family a safe and relaxing summer.


Ilana Rudolf
Communications Associate
Chancellor’s Strategic Response Group
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers Street, Room 215, New York, NY 10007"
You could have applied to be an intern for the summer: