When Randi Weingarten hired me to be a SWAT Team member for all members held in NYC "rubber rooms" (our nickname; they were called Teacher Re-assignment Centers or TRCs in all my reports) in 2007, I was given access, with Jim Callahan and Ron Isaacs, to all the rooms and all the members who needed advice. Jim and Ron both had other responsibilities, but my work was solely to help members in need. My office was on the 16th floor sandwiched between Gene Rubin, head of the Medical Office for the UFT, and Amy Arundell, head of everything else.
A few doors down were Michele Daniels and Howard Solomon. In fact, the 16th floor had all the grievance reps, so I would call/visit them whenever a member wanted me to, or whenever I had a question. I made sure to memorize the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or UFT contract.
So, I was told that whatever the NYC DOE charged a member with was true, and the member was guilty as charged. Under no circumstances was I to look into or question any investigation, as this would be tampering with it.
But Randi, then Mike Mulgrew and the UFT crew kept "the talk" alive, that the DOE was 'going after' members and the UFT would protect anyone charged.
They did not mean it, and proved it by setting members up to lose grievances, Appeals, and 3020-a.
Just one last tip - if you are charged with 3020-a for incompetency and/or misconduct of any kind, do NOT resign no matter how hard it is to say no.
That, dear readers, is the bottom line and a call to arms.
Betsy Combier, Editor
Union prez urges more transparent process for teacher discipline at NYC schoolsBen Chapman, NY Daily News, August 28, 2015
|Randi Weingarten, Mike Mulgrew|
Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew called for an overhaul of the city Education Department’s employee discipline procedures in a highly critical letter sent to agency officials Friday.
In a two-page missive delivered to city schools boss Carmen Fariña and distributed to the press, Mulgrew urged Fariña to create a more fair process for probing and punishing teachers.
Proof that the current system needs work, Mulgrew writes, is a report by city investigators released last week that detailed the department’s mishandling of the investigation and suspension of a beloved Manhattan school therapist whose punishment has since been overturned.
“Students should not be deprived of able educators based on shoddy investigative work or personal predispositions, and we should never permit politics and personal agendas to matter more that truth,” Mulgrew wrote to Fariña.
In the letter, Mulgrew called on Fariña to create new, transparent and objective procedures for reviewing the findings of investigations of teachers.
He cited the case of Manhattan Public School 333 therapist Debra Fisher, who got into trouble for sending an email during work hours in October, seeking to raise cash for a needy student.
Fisher, a 10-year veteran of city schools, was suspended without pay for 30 days over the incident, fueling the ire of families across the city.
But on Aug. 18, a report from the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation found that an Education Department investigator made inaccurate statements and drew the wrong conclusions in his probe of Fisher.
Education officials reversed Fisher’s punishment four days later.
In his letter, the union chief demanded an objective review of previously closed investigations conducted by the investigator who botched the Fisher case.
Mulgrew, who has enjoyed a smooth and relatively cordial relationship with Fariña — compared to his battles with her predecessors — wouldn’t comment on the flap. Neither would union reps.
But Education Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the agency’s reorganization of its investigative unit is already underway.
“We hired a new director...to overhaul the division, and every case will now have an attorney reviewing and drafting the final investigative report,” Kaye said.
Fisher, who will return to work with a clean record when the new school year begins in September, agreed that the agency’s investigative process needs a fix.
“I think that changes need to be made,” Fisher said. “This system should not be hurting good people and that’s the bottom line.”
UFT Asserts It May Sue City
Ms. Weingarten said yesterday she hopes the investigation will end with a deal between the union and the city, and not in the courtroom. The result, she said, will hinge on how the Department of Education responds to new guidelines she plans to send in a letter next week. "If we make a proposal and the Board of Education says, ‘No, forget about it,' then we have a problem," Ms. Weingarten said.
She called the issue a "test case" for her new cooperative stance with city officials.
A lawsuit is one route if cooperation fails, the head of the investigative group, Betsy Combier, said.
The centers hold teachers accused of misconduct ranging from criminal charges to incompetent teaching. Tenured teachers cannot simply be fired or pushed to leave their jobs because the UFT contract requires that they first receive a hearing. A panel of arbitrators then decides whether the teacher will be fired, fined, or allowed back in the classroom with no discipline.
Just 11 rooms hold the 700-plus teachers whose cases have not yet been resolved. The backlog has left some teachers on the city payroll for as long as two years before a decision is reached. In the meantime, teachers in the rooms pass the time by watching television, reading books, and writing.
A complaint the UFT sent to a deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, Kathleen Grimm, recently noted the crowded rooms' poor conditions, including inadequate toilet facilities and electrical violations such as exposed wiring.
Ms. Combier said her conversations with about 70 teachers so far suggest that a majority in the rubber rooms are also being denied due process rights — that is, they have been taken out of the classroom and placed in a center for as long as two years without any information as to why. "It's a public relations nightmare for the Board of Education," Ms. Combier said. "They will never live this down. I won't let them."
A Department of Education spokesman, David Cantor, said cooperation is a possibility. "We'll work with the UFT whenever we can," he said. "But don't be mistaken. The teachers in the rubber rooms have been accused of serious misconduct and crimes. We will not keep them with kids in schools simply because their contract says they must continue to be paid."
He said there are a few cases in which the city does not tell teachers why they are charged as a way of protecting the investigations against them. He said "virtually all" teachers know why they are in rubber rooms.
Ms. Weingarten's promise to ramp up pressure on the issue of rubber rooms comes as she is facing more pressure to act from inside her union and beyond. Factions have formed within the union to fight on behalf of teachers in rubber rooms, making suggestions ranging from hiring more staff to defend teachers to issuing subpoenas of state agencies on their behalf. One group, the Teacher Advocacy Group, plans to picket the union's Lower Manhattan headquarters Wednesday following a delegate assembly meeting, a retired teacher who is advising the group, Norman Scott, said. The group will carry signs charging that the union has "dropped the ball" on protecting teachers.
An independent filmmaker has also added to the fire with a documentary called "The Rubber Room," which several teachers said has generated interest from such high-profile outlets as Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
Some in the union ridiculed Ms. Weingarten's push for compromise, saying it will not resolve what they described as the UFT's failure to provide teachers in rubber rooms with strong legal representation. "They need people that have some kind of understanding and background in employment investigations. They have nothing," a teacher who was placed in a rubber room and who is also a lawyer, Jeffrey Kaufman, said.
Ms. Weingarten's new team includes Ms. Combier, who said she has previous paralegal experience, and two journalists at the union's newspaper.