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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hipolito "Polo" Colon Jr.: The First and Finest Teacher Advocate/Warrior in New York City Dies at Age 67

Polo Colon at the Panel For Educational Policy 2009 (Norm Scott videographer)
Hipolito "Polo" Colon, Jr. was one of my closest and dearest friends. From the moment we met in 2004, we were partners in the fight to get justice for NYC educators. We taught and learned from each other, and my heart is broken, although I know he is now at peace.

When I spoke with him briefly late in the evening of January 29 2017, I told him to hang on, and to stay in the fight. But he couldn't. The world lost this warrior early morning January 30, 2017.

His wake will be held at the Borinquen Memorial Funeral Home, 1461 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn N.Y. 11207, sunday February 5, 2017, 3-9PM. If you want to donate flowers or any financial help to his family, please send to Polo's daughter Lanaette at

Lanaette Colon
75-25 67th Rd.
Middle Village, Queeens, 11379

She told me that Polo asked for purple flowers.

He was the best teacher advocate I have ever met, and showed amazing courage in front of astonishing challenges. He was a gentle, kind man who always stood up to bullies and scam artists wherever they were. He had my back and I had his. I bet most people did not know he was a very talented musician, and sang with the band MALO. He also wrote music.

When Polo was charged with 3020-a he asked for a 3-member panel, as permitted by NYSED at that point -
Hearing request with 3-member panel option
- but the UFT did not want members to have the 3-member panel, so UFT Attorney Carol Gerstl  filed an Affirmation that permanently denied anyone charged with 3020-a in NYC a 3-arbitrator panel. In NYC, the UFT wants speed, not rights, for members who are charged with 3020-a.

See here for information about The Gotcha Squad:
How The New York City "Gotcha Squad" Gets Tenured Teachers Declared "Incompetent", and Placed in a Rubber Room by Betsy Combier (2009)

Despite the huge challenges brought by the Corporation Counsel and the NYC DOE against him, Polo survived, and continued to work as an ATR for the DOE until he retired a few years ago. He was the Treasurer of my Foundation, the E-Accountability Foundation, which is completely independent of this blog and my website His daughter Lanaette will take his place.

I will never be able to say enough about our friendship and collaboration, so I will let my previous posts on my website and blogs speak for themselves:

NYC Teacher Hipolito Colon Makes History and Sues the NYC BOE, The Panel For Educational Policy, and NYSUT For Violating His Rights (2006)

ATR Status: what does this mean?

Despite Public Outrage Against A Continuation of Mayoral Control, A Deal is Made

and see Polo's comments to the two articles on Fidgety:

Polo was extremely distressed over the defamation of me by Francesco Portelos. I cannot and will not forget Polo's outrage.

Here is a tribute to Polo from David Pakter which I received yesterday:

"Polo Colon:  In Memorial 
I just received the news of the untimely death of our most Loyal and Deeply Beloved Friend, Polo Colon.  It would be an understatement to say I am filled with an overarching Sadness that is difficult to express in words.
It is as if a piece of my own Heart has been suddenly torn from my body.

I first met Polo when we were both incarcerated at the infamous Chapel Street "Rubber Room" Detention Center, situated in the bowels of Brooklyn.

At my second Kangaroo State 3020 Trial several years ago, the former Head of Human Resources, was made to admit under Oath, that my being assigned to that Rubber Room had been totally illegal as I should have been assigned to a DOE Rubber Room in Manhattan, where I taught Medical Illustration at the High School of Art & Design.

The intent of the DOE was to make it as arduous and time consuming as possible for me to travel to my daily intentionally punitive "assignment" which required two different trains and then a bus.

Nevertheless, that said, as so often occurs in Life, this Machiavellian plan on the part of New York's DOE had one redeeming benefit.  That is to say it was in the Chapel Street Rubber Room that I first had the distinct Honor of meeting Polo Colon. 

It was clear to me immediately on our first meeting that Polo Colon was quite a unique Human Being and truly a force of Nature to be reckoned with and deserving of the utmost respect.

Always impeccably dressed in suit and tie, something that was quite rare in the many DOE Rubber Rooms, Polo radiated a positive energy and optimism even in the worst of circumstances.  Indeed it is difficult to imagine Polo is no longer among us to continue fighting the Good Fight on behalf of all the innocent victims of an egregiously corrupt Education system. 

On the very day I first met Polo, he told me his own personal Story and how he was fully expecting to be permanently terminated from his Employment that very same afternoon by the New York City Dept. of Education an entity that can truly be said, without exaggeration, to represent "Evil Incarnate".

(Thousands of Dedicated and innocent Educators, over the years, have been attacked and terminated from their jobs for speaking out, reporting wrongdoing and/or becoming Whistle-blowers.) 

Of course on hearing Polo's story, I immediately thought of Betsy Combier, the famous "Miracle Worker", well known for years, for interceding on behalf of the downtrodden Educators of New York City as well as Educators Nationwide. 

Polo and I contacted Betsy Combier by phone from the Chapel Street Rubber Room in Brooklyn and true to form, she immediately  went to work to stop the City from illegally Terminating Polo Colon. 
By 5 PM that very same day Betsy Combier had blocked the DOE from their nefarious plan to end the career, once again, of yet another dedicated NYC Educator whose only "crime" had been to stand up for the Rights of New York City's most powerless and at risk citizens- its more than one million Inner City children.

The rest, as they say, is History.  Having secured Polo's employment and ability to care for his Family, Betsy Combier and Polo Colon became inseparable Fellows in Arms, fighting together for the Rights and well being of all of New York City's Teachers and Students so many of whom had been let down and abandoned by the once powerful, Teachers' Union, the United Federation of Teachers.

Over the years, just as with Betsy Combier,  Polo never rested in his never ending quest to attain Justice for both the Teachers and students of NYC.
Just like Betsy Combier, Polo Colon was a force to be reckoned with.  
Similar to Betsy Combier's own shinning example, Polo Colon inspired so many people whose needs he always put before his own personal needs.  In that sense, just like Betsy Combier, Polo Colon represented the Archetypal Hero.

And just as Betsy Combier literally saved Polo Colon's Career when he needed her priceless assistance most, Polo spent his subsequent years fighting for the same people Betsy Combier has spent her life fighting for. 

The fathomless Sorrow I feel today, knowing that Polo Colon is no longer with us on this Earth is mellowed by the knowledge that he, like Betsy Combier, spent his Life tirelessly helping people as Betsy Combier selflessly helped Polo when he most needed her.  

And I am comforted by the firm belief and Hope that others will be inspired to Honor Polo Colon's Life and Memory by rededicating themselves, once again, to all those Sacred values which Polo Colon held dear in the deepest core of his boundlessly Generous Heart.

I will always treasure my Hollowed Memories of knowing Polo Colon till I draw my Last Breathe on this Earth.  Just as Betsy Combier, is such a unique Woman, who always and even now, still Leads by Example, Polo Colon was an equally unique Man who never ceased to Lead by his own Example.

You, Polo Colon, are done now with your Work on God's Earth. 
Rest well, my Dear Friend in your Well Deserved Peace among the Stars.

David Pakter"

Below are some memories which I will forever treasure. Rest in Peace Polo!

From Betsy Combier:
I met Polo in 2004 after I met another teacher, David Pakter, at a TV studio on the West Side of Manhattan in 2003. David talked about "the rubber room" and a "3020-a hearing", neither of which I had ever heard about before. I told him I would really like to find out more about 25 Chapel Street and the 3020-a hearing, so David told me he would sneak me in, and that he would tell his attorney, NYSUT's Chris Callagy, that he wanted me to sit in at his arbitration. I found out later that if a charged employee wanted a person to sit in his/her hearing, all they had to do is ask - but NYSUT did not want to tell anyone. I started publicizing the "open and public 3020-a hearing" so that all Respondents could have friends and relatives observe.
Betsy Combier and Chris Callagy at David Pakter's 3020-a, 49-51 Chambers Street, 2009
I started going to Chapel Street 2-3 times /week, and I sat with the UFT members there and listened to their stories all day. I left when their day was over. Polo asked me to sit in in his 3020-a, which I did, and then teachers at the Chapel Street rubber room as well as in other rooms throughout NYC began to ask me to sit in in their hearings, so I began my study of how 3020-a arbitration worked....or didn't. Randi  Weingarten, President of the UFT at the time, heard that I was there and asked me to help her get rubber room teachers to tell their stories to the NY City Council hearing on whistleblower laws in 2006. I helped her round up testimony. Then after almost 4 years of attending 3020-a hearings and visiting the 25 Chapel Street rubber room, in 2007, asked me to work for the UFT as the "official rubber room rep". I gladly agreed.

Polo, David Pakter and I worked together to make sure that our voices were heard. When there was a Panel For Educational Policy ("PEP") meeting with a lawless Executive Session, Polo called me or I called him, and we got there in time to sign up as the first speakers. Joel Klein and his Attorney Michael Best tried to cut us off, but their efforts only fueled our flames. As you will see in the videos below, both Polo and I call Joel Klein "Mr." Klein, because neither Polo nor I had a copy of his contract with the DOE. In fact, DOE FOIL attorney Susan Holtzman told me that Joel did not have a contract. So, I wrote an article "The Who Are You Kidding Award Goes To Joel Klein". Both Polo and I did not see how he could be called "Chancellor". We couldn't see how Carmen Farina or Dennis Walcott could be given that title, either.
See Polo's speeches on video, thanks to Norm Scott:

PEP Meeting September 2007
PEP meeting 2009
Polo Colon

Polo was the first teacher who I knew about who sued the UFT and the DOE for putting him in the rubber room. I served his papers on the UFT at 52 Broadway, 9th Floor (NYSUT). I remember vividly when the Corporation Counsel scheduled a deposition at their offices at 100 Church Street, and the day before emailed Polo that I would be barred from entering the building. We had a good laugh, then Polo called his girlfriend and told her to arrive at 9:30am the following day dressed professionally. She became the Reporter of the event where I would be thrown out of a public lobby. Matthew Leighton, the Corporation Counsel attorney assigned to the case, was very cordial when he saw us, and escorted us up to the 4th floor, where he said there would be no problem if I wanted to come with Polo to the 2nd floor, but no one else could come. So the girlfriend left and we had the reporter set up to transcribe the hearing with the principal. When she was ready, Mr. Leighton immediately went into a diatribe on the record about how I had to leave immediately. Polo suggested (I wrote him a note) that Mr. Leighton get the judge on the telephone. Mr. Leighton unfortunately had to wire the room for outside calls, so the deposition of Liza Carabello was put off for 45 minutes while electricians put a speaker phone into the room. Then, Mr. Leighton called the judge's chambers and said to the law clerk that he had to get a ruling from the judge. The law clerk said that the Judge, Paul Fineman, was not there, but she could rule. Leighton told her that I wanted to sit in on the deposition, I was not a party, and he wanted her to order me to leave. She hesitated for a minute, then told him to cease and desist, I could sit there, give notes to Polo, and take him outside, the only thing I could not do was speak on the record. Polo tried not to laugh. I dont believe I mentioned that I had called a friend at the Supreme Court and asked him the very same question, before I went into 100 Church street to meet Polo. I already knew the answer. Mr. Leighton thanked the law clerk, but after he hung up was visibly angry.  Polo did the deposition of Carabello and I was soooo proud of him. What a guy.

Then, in 2010 when UFT Staff Directors Ellie Engler, Leroy Barr and President Mike Mulgrew told me that I was helping too many members and they wanted me out of my office so they could give it to someone else, who came at 7PM with his SUV to the front door of 52 Broadway to load up all my boxes and bags in the pouring rain? Polo. He put all of the stuff in his apartment until I could figure out what to do with it. I've of course kept all my notes on the rubber rooms for my book, which Polo was going to co-author.

From The A For Accountability Award (trademarked by me 2005)

Hippolito "Polo" Colon was a tenured teacher at PS 120 in Brooklyn NY, when he became aware that the principal of the school was not following federal laws protecting the children in her care at the school. He wrote down what he believed to be illegal actions by the principal and called in the NYC BOE investigators. He believed that he would be protected by local, State, and Federal whistleblower laws, and the investigators would look into his allegations. Instead, the NYC DOE "investigated" him, and removed him suddenly and without warning from the school. He became another statistic of the New York City "rubber rooms", or re-assignment centers, where tenured teachers who are whistleblowers are dumped, and where these potential firecrackers sit, day after day, at long tables. Polo sat in the room for almost 1 year, and, like most of the other 400+ teachers in rubber rooms around New York City, asked for, but never received the charges describing the 'crimes' that he was accused of doing. 

Then, in August 2006, he received a letter from NYC BOE General Counsel Michael Best saying that he would be terminated at the September 19 2006 meeting of The Panel For Educational Policy, due to his waiving of his right to a hearing. He did not waive his right to a hearing, and, unwilling to lose his salary (as his UFT representative said he would), he took steps to stop the BOE, The PEP, and NYSUT from leaving him without his job and his salary: he filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court pro se. Parentadvocates congratulates him, and hopes that his actions are repeated by all the other teachers dumped into rubber rooms unfairly and denied due process. See NYC Teacher Hipolito Colon Makes History and Sues the NYC BOE, The Panel For Educational Policy, and NYSUT For Violating His Rights

Racial Disparities Start in Pre-Kindergarten Says the Century Foundation in a New Report

Racial segregation in New York City is rampant. In some places you cannot see it immediately, but it is there. Kids who are African-American or Hispanic, kids with parents who do not speak English well, and families who live in predominantly minority neighborhoods do not get the Gifted and Talented Programs nor the service providers for special needs that the white and Asian populations in NYC get.

This racial divide from pre-k up the line through high school prevents minority children from getting into the specialized high schools. This is the cancer which will not be fixed by changing the test, the SSHAT. The systemic discrimination must be addressed head on, and all the politicians who ask us to read their lips are doing nothing about it but talking. Action is needed, without retaliation.

I'm not sure that the NYC Department of Education knows how to do this:

The Wide-spread Racial Disparities At the NYC Department of Education and Harlem Public Schools v Charter Schools

We have not seen either Carmen, Mike, or Bill doing anything to stop these disparities.

UFT President Mike Mulgrew, Chancellor Carmen Farina, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

At Little Star of Broome Street Early Childhood Center in Manhattan, which is operated by the Chinese-American Planning Council, 80 percent of the students are Asian, said Mary Cheng, the early childhood program director. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Racial Segregation in New York Schools Starts With Pre-K, Report Finds
SEPT. 20, 2016
From elementary through high school, New York City children tend to go to school with others similar to themselves, in one of the country’s most racially segregated systems.
Turns out that racial segregation is an issue in prekindergarten, too.
A report by the Century Foundation, a public policy research group, which will be released on Tuesday, found that in 2014-15, the first year of the major prekindergarten expansion pushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, prekindergarten classrooms tended to be more racially homogeneous than even the city’s public kindergartens.
In half of all prekindergarten classrooms, over 70 percent of students belonged to a single racial or ethnic group, despite the fact that the overall program was diverse, with no racial or ethnic majority. In one out of every six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of the students were of the same race or ethnicity. In kindergarten, that is true in one out of every eight classrooms.
“As much as we struggle with segregation in K-12 schools, early education is really behind,” said Halley Potter, a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of the report.
So how did this segregation come about? Ms. Potter found that prekindergarten classrooms in charter schools and regular district schools had levels of diversity similar to that found in their kindergartens.
But 60 percent of prekindergarten students that year were enrolled at community-based organizations, and those classrooms tended to be more racially homogeneous than public kindergartens.
Among community-based pre-K centers, there are two main types. One is funded by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and typically serves students from low-income families. Those sites also often provide child care beyond the universal prekindergarten day, which lasts for six hour and 20 minutes.
Seats at other kinds of community-based sites also tend to go to particular groups. Some organizations give priority to children who were previously enrolled as 3-year-olds, in programs their parents may have paid for, or who might have siblings enrolled at the center. They may give priority to children who speak a particular language, or to those whose families receive social services from the organization. In many cases, they have established relationships within particular communities.
Administration for Children’s Services classrooms were more likely to have a majority of black or Hispanic students, the report found. Prekindergarten programs in other community-based organizations were more likely to have a heavily white or Asian student population.
At Little Star of Broome Street Early Childhood Center in Manhattan, which is operated by the Chinese-American Planning Council, for example, 80 percent of the students are Asian, said Mary Cheng, the early childhood program director; parents tend to find out about the center by word of mouth. She said a more diverse student body would be beneficial not just for the children in her care, but also for their families.
“To be accepting and tolerant of each other, you have to be a mixture,” Ms. Cheng said. “To learn that there are things that are similar” across cultures, she added, “that’s something really important for kids to learn, and for adults.”
Ms. Potter says emphasis on racial diversity needs to be built into the application process.
“What we see here is a reflection of the research around school choice,” she said. “That is, if it’s just choice, without diversity really built into the design of the program, it tends to have the effect of increasing segregation in schools and classrooms.”
“These pre-K centers did not appear from scratch, most already existed,” she continued, and they came with established enrollment patterns.
Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor of strategy and policy at the city’s Education Department, said that during the first year of universal pre-K expansion, there were different application processes for district schools and community-based organizations. In subsequent years, however — this is Year 3 — there was a single, unified application for the whole system, which Mr. Wallack said might have an impact on classroom diversity.
“Prior to that, early learning centers had to do their own recruitment, and tended to reach out in their immediate surroundings,” he said. The new system “put them on the same playing field as district schools, part of a citywide application process.”
He added that classroom diversity “ is a priority for the Department of Education and this administration, because we believe children in diverse classrooms learn from each other, and learn better.”
There have been small-scale efforts in recent years to address the city’s enormous segregation issue. For example, the Education Department has begun allowing individual schools to mold admissions policies that would create a more diverse student body, by doing things like setting aside seats for students who are learning English. A couple of districts are also discussing ways of creating more socioeconomically balanced schools in their areas. But critics have called these efforts too incremental for such a far-reaching and entrenched problem.
Despite the challenges, Ms. Potter, the report’s author, said she was hopeful.
“You have to keep in mind,” she said, “this was the first year of universal pre-K, coming out of a system where most kids were either in private pay or means-tested programs; there weren’t that many seats that were available to kids of all backgrounds. Making that step to universal is huge.”
“I think you need to keep in mind that that’s where we’re moving from,” she added. “Where I’d be disappointed would be if we don’t see any shifting in these patterns.”