Luckily, the public was able to force the New York City Department of Education to do the right thing.
Betsy Combier, Editor
NYC education officials reverse school therapist’s punishment for effort to help needy student
Ben Chapman, NY Daily NewsLINK
Manhattan Public School 333 therapist Debra Fisher was suspended without pay for sending an email during work hours to raise cash for a needy student. Officials have overturned her punishment, reinstating her pay and wiping the case from her record.
Manhattan Public School 333 therapist Debra Fisher got into trouble for sending an email during work hours to raise cash for a needy student in October.
Fisher, a 10-year veteran of the city schools, was suspended from her job without pay for 30 days over the incident, prompting outrage from families across the city.
On Thursday, education officials overturned Fisher’s punishment, reinstating her pay and wiping the case from her record.
“Now I can stop fighting this madness and focus on the kids,” Fisher said. “I can’t wait to get back to work and be the best therapist I can be. That’s all I ever wanted.”
EDITORIAL: GROSS INJUSTICE FOR SCHOOL THERAPIST
On Monday, a report from the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation found an Education Department investigator made inaccurate statements and drew the wrong conclusions in his probe of Fisher.
Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said Fisher will suffer no official negative consequences over the case.
“We regret the suspension caused as a result of this investigation, and we are pleased to resolve the situation,” said Kaye.
Fisher said she would drop a suit to recover her pay and have the incident removed from her records, since the city has already done so.
They Done Her Wrong
Ed. Dept. ripped over suspension of good-hearted school therapist
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, August 17, 2015, 8:50 PM
City investigators ripped Education Department officials Monday for blowing a probe of a Manhattan school therapist who was suspended for trying to help one of her students.
The scathing report from the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation found an Education Department investigator made inaccurate statements and drew the wrong conclusions in his probe last year of Public School 333 therapist Debra Fisher.
“I’m glad to be vindicated,” said Fisher, 56, a 10-year veteran of the city schools, who was suspended from her job without pay for 30 days over the incident. “But the system needs a lot of work to be fixed.”
EDITORIAL: GROSS INJUSTICE FOR SCHOOL THERAPIST
Fisher grabbed headlines in October when she got into trouble for sending an email during work hours for a fundraiser to help a student.
Fisher had set up a Kickstarter fundraising drive aimed at helping PS 333 student Aaron Philip, 14, put together a book and film to help other disabled kids — an official work project she said the school enthusiastically approved.
But when Education Department investigators — probing an unrelated complaint against Fisher from a co-worker — discovered her work on the fund-raiser, they suspended her for using work time and equipment for non-work purposes.
Aaron’s father, Petrone Philip, didn’t return a call for comment.
Fisher, who makes about $5,000 a month, returned to work after her suspension, but she filed a suit for back pay for the time she was suspended and to have the incident removed from her disciplinary file. The suit is still active.
Major Flaws Found in Inquiry That Led to Suspension of Public-School TherapistLINK
For sheer bureaucratic folly, it would be hard to top the suspension last year of a devoted occupational therapist in the public school system who showed children in wheelchairs how to get places.
The therapist, Debra Fisher, created an art therapy program for disabled children. She helped one family move from a homeless shelter to an apartment that was wheelchair accessible, arranged swimming lessons for a boy who couldn’t walk, and gave workshops for other educators on assisting children who have special needs. One of her prize students at the Manhattan School for Children on the Upper West Side, a boy born with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair to travel, gave a talk at Tumblr about a blog that Ms. Fisher encouraged him to write. Now he has written a book that will be published by HarperCollins.
Ms. Fisher was hard-driving — she contacted me at least a dozen times about finding an apartment for the homeless family — and accomplished, as is apparent from a 2014 TedX lecture.
But last year, Ms. Fisher was suspended for 30 days without pay, charged with “theft of services” and conflict of interest.
What did the “theft” involve?
Supposedly sending fund-raising emails on school time to help the boy raise money for his book.
And the conflict of interest?
Ms. Fisher had a weekend job at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, guiding its staff members on how children with limited use of their arms or legs could take part in museum art projects. As it happened, some families from her school were also involved with the museum, and an investigator with a disciplinary arm of New York City’sDepartment of Education concluded that they must have put in the fix for Ms. Fisher to be hired there.
The investigator’s report was jammed with mistakes, omitted context — for instance, you would never have known from the report that the school principal had directly approved the fund-raising and other worthy activities of Ms. Fisher — and twisted statements made by people at the museum to create an illusion of conflict in entirely innocent circumstances. In fact, parents had nothing to do with Ms. Fisher’s hiring there. Still, a report that was untrue in every significant detail led to her suspension.
On Monday, the city’s Department of Investigation said those findings were factually wrong and the result of unprofessional work, and recommended wholesale changes to the branch of the Education Department that allowed such shoddy work to be issued. The new report noted that the person who conducted the investigation had no meaningful supervision, and had even recommended that Ms. Fisher be fired. Most egregious, the student writing the book said the investigator pressed him not to be protective of Ms. Fisher and told him not to speak with his father about the interview.
Yet the suspension of Ms. Fisher was not simply the work of one obsessive Javert, or one broken arm of the bureaucracy. “I took the mandate of Chancellor Carmen Fariña to heart — to put the needs of the children first,” Ms. Fisher said on Monday. “Somewhere along the way, I was sure that people’s better angels would prevail. But no one said this person is trying her best, and has no infractions.”
From the principal on the front line, to Chancellor Fariña, to the United Federation of Teachers, every person in authority who had a chance to stop a reckless process either rubber-stamped false charges, or waved them on without vigorous objection.
What does the Education Department make of this new narrative?
It is overhauling the division and procedures that produced the flawed charges against Ms. Fisher, according to Devora Kaye, the department’s spokeswoman.
What of Ms. Fisher, who was summarily ordered out of her school for 30 days — without a word of explanation to the students she worked with — and lost her pay and health insurance for that period?
“The suspension of Debra Fisher is under review,” Ms. Kaye said.
As well it should be.
“This was a thoroughly botched investigation by a thoroughly dysfunctional system that resulted in a miscarriage of justice,” said Joel Kurtzberg, a former teacher who is now a partner in the law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel. He represented Ms. Fisher in a court case to overturn the suspension. “We’re hoping the city will react appropriately.”
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Investigator questions competency of DOE’s grade-fixing probers, NY POST, August 18, 2015
Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon issued a blistering report Monday questioning the competency of the Department of Education’s in-house investigative squad — the same unit looking into allegations of test-rigging uncovered by The Post.
In a scathing 19-page letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Condon concluded that DOE investigator Wei Liu conducted a shoddy conflicts-of-interest probe of Debra Fisher, a veteran therapist at the Manhattan School for Children, which serves special-needs kids.
Even more troubling, Condon said, was that Liu’s bosses at the DOE Office of Special Investigations provided almost no supervision and simply rubber-stamped his findings.
Top brass admitted they did little more in some instances than look for grammatical errors in Liu’s reports.
“The findings of an investigation which recommends the termination of someone’s employment should be subjected to an oversight and review process that includes more than checking for grammar and punctuation,” Condon wrote.
School officials refused to provide Liu’s resume to show he was qualified for the post he held.
Liu had recommended Fisher be fired for, among other things, soliciting funds for a needy student during school hours.
Fariña upheld the findings, but decided to suspend Fisher for one month without pay instead of getting rid of her entirely.
Condon had his own investigators re-interview Liu’s witnesses. They complained that he had erroneously reported or mischaracterized their statements.
As a result, Condon said, Liu came up with “inaccurate conclusions” that “did not meet professional standards.”
Liu resigned in April.
Joel Kurtzberg, a lawyer for Fisher, said Condon’s findings vindicate her. “The report confirms what we’ve been saying all along,” he said.
The Department of Education said it is overhauling practices at its investigative unit, which has been assigned to examine test-rigging charges spotlighted by The Post.
“Every case will now have an attorney reviewing and drafting the final investigative reports,” said Fariña spokeswoman Devora Kaye.