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Saturday, October 17, 2020

NYC DOE Deputy Chancellor Adrienne Austin Says SHSAT and Admissions Decisions Are "Political"


Adrienne Austin, deputy chancellor for community empowerment, partnerships and communications

I remember when Ms. Austin was a Department prosecutor of educators brought to 3020-a hearings for termination.

One of my clients, C.V., was charged with forging her name on a posting for a special education position. Ms. Austin was the attorney assigned to prosecute. I found that a staff person at the school had the same poster with the principal's original signature. We brought this poster in to show the Arbitrator on the first day of the 3020-a. We stated that the so-called "investigation" that substantiated the charge and then created the 3020-a was deficient and that this case had to be dismissed. Ms. Austin handed out to us on day 2 of the hearing the agreement by the Department to withdraw the case, because the investigator went back to the school and was told by the principal that they had forged their own signature on the poster. I believe that Ms. Austin was moved up to the Chancellor's Office soon after.

Several years later we received an email on another case where the Department wrote the "new" policy was never to withdraw a case, only dismiss (since the C.V. 3020-a was such an embarrassment).

The email with the "new" policy of the Department from Department Attorney Miriam Berardino, sent to me on December 14, 2018:

"1.    Discontinuing versus withdrawing the charges.  The Department’s policy is to discontinue and not withdraw the charges.  Sometime after the 2013 case of C V, the Department stopped withdrawing charges.  Therefore, the Department is willing to discontinue the charges against Respondent in an effort to reach a fair and just resolution in this matter."

By the way, this email was followed by my successful effort to withdraw that recent case with Attorney Berardino, despite the new "policy" handed down after my win in the case of C.V. Ms. Berardino put up a great fight, but what does an NYC DOE "policy" have to do with an arbitration proceeding for a tenured educator? Our stand is that our "policy" is to demand withdrawal over the dismissal of a case when not only is there no proper determination of probable cause, but no evidence whatsoever that the misconduct ever occurred.

See also:

The NYC Department of Education Brings Chaos To High School Admissions and Student Records

  Betsy Combier

Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials   

Carranza’s deputy calls decisions on school admissions criteria ‘political’

A top deputy of schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stunned parents last week when she said decisions on admission criteria for the city’s top middle and high schools are “political.”

“Anything that’s as high stakes and important as — and political, to be honest — as admissions policy is going to have to be something that’s cleared by the city,” said Adrienne Austin, deputy chancellor for community empowerment, partnerships, and communications.

Austin made the startling comment after Manhattan dad Leonard Silverman asked about still-unknown Department of Education plans to give the SHSAT — the entry exam for eight specialized high schools — plus Gifted & Talented testing, and admission rules for kids applying to middle and high schools.

“I know parents want to know about admissions. I know parents want to know about grading policy. I want to know about grading policy and admissions,” Austin said. “I don’t have that information yet.”

Austin spoke Thursday at a Zoom meeting of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee, a citywide panel of 38 parent representatives.

Silverman, of Manhattan’s District 2, was taken aback by Austin’s honesty.

“Did she actually say what I think she said?” he wondered after her comment.

“I think it shows there’s more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. It’s not just educational issues,” Silverman said.

He added, “I don’t think issues like these should be political. Parents are caught in the crossfire. Parents want to know what’s going to happen next year, and if politics are delaying the process, it’s disconcerting.”

Yiatin Chu, co-president of PLACE NYC, a parent group that supports competitive admissions, called Austin’s comments “despicable.”

“For a top DOE leader to say that these decisions are political tells you that our educators have become politicians,” she said. “And they’re seizing on our health and education crisis to further their political agenda.”

Mayor de Blasio and Carranza have tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the SHSAT, the sole entry criteria, required by state law, for Stuyvesant, Bronx HS of Science,  and Brooklyn Tech. Five other high schools use the exam, which Carranza called “racist.”

Carranza also opposes the widespread practice of “screening” students for admission at hundreds of middle and high schools based on grades, state test scores, attendance, and other measures, saying it results in racial segregation.

Despite demands by advocacy groups such as Teens Take Charge, Carranza has not yet made changes but has suggested the pandemic can lead to dropping such criteria.

“Never waste a good crisis to transform a system,” he told principals in May. “We see this as an opportunity to finally push and move and be very strategic in a very aggressive way what we know is the equity agenda for our kids.”

Manhattan City Councilman Keith Powers, who has introduced a resolution asking the state to repeal Hecht-Calendra, the law requiring the SHSAT, interprets Austin’s use of the word “political” as a reference to the controversy swirling around admission issues,

“History has shown that these discussions have lots of stakeholders who feel very strongly,” Powers said. “But parents deserve to know what those policies are going to be so they can start the process of applying to schools and planning for where their children will go.”

The councilman added, “Ultimately, this is going to wind up at the mayor’s discretion.”

Austin declined to explain her remark.

“Admissions processes deeply impact each student’s education, and we are always on the side of equity and increasing access and opportunity,” DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said.

“Our decisions are driven by the best interest of our students, which is why we have publicly opposed SHSAT and haven’t added screened schools. We have engaged families citywide on admissions, and will share updates soon.”

Friday, October 16, 2020

NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza Sabotages the SHSAT Specialized High Schools' Admissions Test


                                     NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza

Every day, I read about or see for myself the way that the NYC Department of Education violates procedures to get what they want.

Take the SHSAT Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, for example. From day one of his reign as Chancellor, Richard Carranza has spoken openly about the test he hates, because too many white and Asian kids successfully achieve high scores and get into the "best" public schools in the City of New York. Ergo, the test is racist and discrimination cannot continue. He vowed then, in 2018, and does now, to end the test, and find a way to get Black and Brown kids into these schools through other means.

The COVID-19 disarray has given him, Chancellor Carranza, the chaos he needed to end the test by simply never scheduling it. If the test is not given, then no one can get into the specialized high schools.

This approach I call "doing what is right for the select few by harming everyone". The high standards for getting into the specialized high schools are there to assure gifted and talented kids from any socio-economic group, that their level of intellectual curiosity will be rewarded, and challenged. Gifted and Talented children are in the same space as other kids, that they should expect a public education that fits their needs. I believe that Chancellor Carranza does not see this, and despises kids that are in the G&T Group.

Full disclosure, two of my children were accepted to Stuyvesant. One was accepted with an IEP, and she did not ask for any accommodation such as extended time. She wanted to get in on her ability to handle the academic work, not on a separate standard. 

I believe that the test is the one truly neutral way to select students and that racial discrimination starts in kindergarten when Black and Brown students do not get a great education at their schools and cannot reach their personal best because of the curricula, staff, or teachers at their school. Fix this problem starting with kindergarten-middle schools - and school staff and administrators who do not care about the achievement of their students.

Keep politics out of schools.

Betsy Combier

Ending Specialized Test Will Hurt City Education
The Chief, Larry Cary, October 8, 2020

New York City's Principals are demanding that Governor Cuomo take control of the city's schools because of the incompetence of Chancellor Richard Carranza and the city Department of Education.

At the same time, misguided Albany legislators are carrying Carranza's water to change the law and give him complete control over the city's best high schools—Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and five othersso he can eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test and have the unfettered right to socially engineer their admissions as he sees fit.

Carranza, who has repeatedly said he opposes any kind of enriched education in the school system, even could eliminate them as STEM schools specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

Currently, state law mandates the existence of Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, and Science, as well as an unbiased competitive test to determine who gets in. The city voluntarily added the five "little" specialized high schools about 15 years ago. The DOE has the unfettered right to eliminate the use of the test at these five smaller schools but has refused to do so.

History of Success

These schools have outstanding outcomes. All eight are ranked by US News among the top 10 schools in New York State. They are ranked among the top 100 out of 25,000 high schools in the nation. Virtually every student graduates fully college-ready. Virtually all the students graduate and go on to college Two-thirds of the city's public high school students attending Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are graduates of Tech, Stuyvesant, and Science. Fourteen graduates of these three schools are recipients of the Nobel Prize, more than most nations.

By comparison, less than half of the city's public-school students score proficient or above on state annual assessment tests for math and language arts. Many graduate unprepared for college-level work. At CUNY's community colleges, 75 percent of the students, almost all public-school graduates, take at least one remedial course, and some take three.

For Black students, the situation is worse. The longer they are in the city's schools, the more their performance on the math assessment test declines. In third grade, about 12 percent of Black students score above proficient. By eighth grade, only 7.7 percent are scoring as high. About 25 percent of students never graduate high school.

The test-in schools are havens for the underprivileged: Many, if not most, students attending the big three schools come from underprivileged backgrounds, the children of working, minority, poor, and immigrant families. Many are immigrants themselves. Notably, this year's graduating class at Brooklyn Tech received over $135,000,000 in scholarships and financial aid, attesting to both their academic qualifications and their socioeconomic backgrounds.

At Brooklyn Tech, the largest high school in the nation (6,000 students), nearly two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the metric used to measure poverty. Four-fifths are members of minority groups. Two-thirds are Asian, with students from China, Bangladesh, Korea, India, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, and beyond. About 12 percent are Black and Latino. About 20 percent are white, many from immigrant families fleeing oppression from Eastern Europe and former Soviet states. Many speak a foreign language in the home.

Fifty years ago, New York State mandated the existence of the big three STEM high schools and use of the SHSAT for admission. Each year, nearly 30,000 students take the test. The top-scoring 5,000 applicants are selected for 3,800 seats. Some decline the offer and attend schools with a less-rigorous curriculum.

These schools are under fire because some blame the test for the underrepresentation of Black and Latino students compared with the total public-school system. While no school matches the demographic percentages of the school system as a whole, frequently the academically better selective high schools, which use subjective criteria instead of the test for admissions, either mirror test-in schools for Asian representation, or are more-white and wealthier.

'Racism' Cry Stifles Debate

Calling the test racist inhibits a fair and rational debate about the issue. This is not the case. The independent company creating the test vets questions for bias. For nearly 20 years until 1994, most students at Brooklyn Tech were Black or Latino, and for many years after that, were a large part of the student body.

What changed the situation was the city's decision to systematically eliminate honors and Gifted & Talented programs in the schools serving the Black and Latino communities. Until the early 1990s, most middle schools had honors programs. Their elimination prevented high-potential students in segregated Black and Latino communities from getting the education they deserved. Today, this situation continues to prevent them from doing better on the test. We advocate changing this.

Some immediate efforts can successfully improve the demographic diversity of the schools. The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, which I head, with the financial support of National Grid, has run a pilot pipeline program for six years aimed at underrepresented middle-school students to prepare them for academic achievement and a successful test.

Our program's outcomes are better than every program run by the city. Two-thirds of participants completing the program admitted to Tech are Black, Latino, and/or female, another underrepresented group. We have urged city officials to adopt our model and scale it up, but they seem disinterested. To read our report on Creating a STEM Pipeline for Middle Schools, go to

It is foolish to think the State Legislature should turn over to the city full control over these test-in schools when the city's Principals have no confidence in Chancellor Carranza's ability to even open the schools while keeping the children safe from the virus.

Mr. Cary, a Manhattan lawyer, is the president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Association.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The New Memorandum of Agreement For Proceeding With 3020-a Hearings

                          NYC DOE General Counsel Howard Friedman

I just posted on my  blog "Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials

(URL the new Memorandum of Agreement signed by NYSUT and the NYC Department of Education on how they will proceed with 3020-a disciplinary hearings while COVID-19 concerns are still being discussed.

See my re-posted article and the full MOA, below.

Betsy Combier

Agreement Signed by NYSUT and NYC DOE General Counsel On How To Proceed With 3020-a Hearings During COVID-19 Danger

I am a paralegal who has completed about 110 teacher trials (known as "3020-a arbitration"), settled about 20, got withdrawal of all charges for four educators, and won exoneration for nine educators over the past nine years. Before I started actually working on these trials/arbitrations, I spent eight years sitting in hearings as a volunteer observer in my own time, writing notes on everything that was said and done. I taught myself the ropes.

The UFT legal arm is NYSUT, or New York State United Teachers. In this group are Attorneys who represent educator members throughout New York State whenever charges are filed against an individual member. These Attorneys are free, and you get what you pay for, in my opinion. I know almost all of them, having worked for the UFT and meeting them in the hearing offices. NYSUT attorneys will not work with anyone outside of NYSUT. 

In NYC, both NYSUT Attorneys and the prosecuting Attorneys at the NYC DOE Office of Legal Affairs under the direction of General Counsel Howard Friedman want to remove outside counsel from representing charged educators, basically to maintain control of the hearings themselves and to make sure that the outcome is "agreed" to by the school board/DOE. However, any charged educator may choose anyone he/she wants, to represent him/her at 3020-a arbitration. Many - in fact, increasingly - members choose to remove NYSUT and pursue the defense with a private legal team. Thus, when the pandemic hit NYC and hearings at 100 Gold Street in Manhattan were put on hold, I was wondering what would be the game plan.

Two days ago the hearings went into full start again, but not a single private attorney with whom I work on these cases would agree to go into the building and the small hearing rooms of the Legal Unit at 100 Gold 3rd Floor. Turns out, NYSUT and the NYC DOE had made a deal (that was not sent to any private attorneys) to put all hearings on Zoom until whenever.

This should be interesting. Arbitration by zoom has its' pros and cons. I currently have five cases to put on, and you all know I will let you know what happens after the hearings are over. 

For now, see the MOA signed by Beth Norton, General Counsel of NYSUT, and Howard Friedman, General Counsel of the NYC DOE. Enjoy.

Betsy Combier

Memorandum of Agreement between the 
Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York and the
United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO

               1.      3020-a Hearings:

a.       Nothing in this Memorandum of Agreement (“MOA”) shall constitute a waiver or modification of any provision of any memorandum of agreement, collective bargaining agreement (and the documents incorporated therein by reference), letter, or other agreement between the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York (“DOE”) and the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2 (“UFT”), or past practice except as expressly set forth herein.

b.      This MOA is intended to address the extraordinary conditions presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the risk of COVID-19. This MOA will sunset on June 30, 2021, unless both parties agree to extend, in writing, this MOA no later than May 1, 2021, or upon such time as school resume full in-person instruction, whichever is earlier. Notwithstanding the foregoing, either party may terminate this MOA for cause on 10 days’ notice, provided however that, prior to provision of such notice, the party seeking to terminate must have first raised the issue in question in consultation under Section 1(d) of this MOA and have escalated the issue to the General Counsel of the DOE and the General Counsel of the UFT. If no agreement is reached, the Chancellor and the UFT President will decide. For the purposes of this MOA “cause” is defined as either (a) an order issued by the Governor of New York in which all 3020-a hearings are held in abeyance; (b) an order or directive issued by the Chancellor pursuant to which schools are closed and staff are not working remotely; or (c) the Chancellor and UFT president agree that hearings cannot proceed in a manner consistent with this MOA and Education Law Section 3020-a.

c.       The parties acknowledge that the situation regarding reopening offices is fluid and that New York City began Phase One reopening as described in Governor’s Executive Orders on June 8, 2020, and has proceeded and may proceed through reopening phases, or not, depending on a number of factors including the rate of new infections of the virus. The parties agree that as they transition back to holding hearings in person, there may be a need for one or more of the participants to appear remotely, resulting in a hybrid in-person/remote hearing. To the extent possible and permitted under all existing DOE safety rules as determined by the joint DOE/UFT Central Committee, the parties will proceed with in-person hearings. However, if in-person hearings are not possible then the parties will proceed remotely for the term of this MOA, whether with a hybrid model or completely remote.

d.      The Director of the Administrative Trials Unit (“ATU”) and the Director of the Teacher Performance Unit (“TPU”) shall meet monthly with the UFT, or the UFT’s designee to consult regarding the implementation of this MOA.

2.      Remote Hearings (Process and Protocols)

a.       The parties are committed to having these cases heard in an expeditious manner. The parties agree to conduct remote hearings according to the protocols set forth in this MOA so that all issues are fully and fairly litigated.

b.      If a Respondent requests, the UFT will make every effort to provide a private and secure location for the Respondent to participate in the remote hearing with the appropriate computer equipment and abiding by all health and safety requirements. If the UFT is unable to provide a Respondent with a location on a given hearing date, counsel for the Respondent will make every effort to provide the DOE with two (2) days’ notice and the DOE will make every effort to provide a private and secure location for Respondent to participate in the remote hearing with the appropriate computer equipment and abiding by all health and safety requirements. If UFT and the DOE are unable to provide a location to the Respondent, the hearing will be cancelled, and the parties will split any cancellation fees. If a hearing is scheduled within 48 hours of the hearing date (e.g., as the result of a settlement of another matter), and the UFT is unable to provide Respondent with a location, the UFT will notify the DOE as soon as possible. Under these circumstances, should the DOE be unable to provide a private and secure location the parties agree to mutually reschedule the hearing date.

c.       The parties agree to make every effort to pre-mark exhibits, identify witnesses, stipulate to undisputed facts, and minimize the issues of fact to be tried remotely.

d.      Remote hearings for both ATU and TPU cases will resume and proceed in the order of their case queues/case assignments before their current hearing officers in a manner that is consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. To the maximum extent possible the parties agree to ensure that the cases are managed timely.

e.       In the event a hearing is cancelled or interrupted as a result of an individual party’s technical issues, including but not limited to the party’s failure to have the proper equipment, that party will bear the cost of any cancellation fees for the hearing date. 

3.      Platform:

a.       The parties agree that all remote hearings will occur on a single platform: Zoom Pro.

b.      The Hearing Officer (hereinafter “HO”) will be responsible for the costs of using the Zoom Pro platform. 

4.      Procedures:

a.       Subject to paragraph 2(b), each party shall be responsible for ensuring their own equipment is properly functioning prior to the hearing date.

b.      The HO shall ensure that the court reporter can access the hearing to make the transcript of the hearing.

c.       The HO shall be the only “host” of the proceeding on the chosen platform and will ensure that each party has a confidential virtual break out room.

d.      The HO as host will ensure that the following participants will have access to virtual breakout rooms and that additional breakout rooms are made available for other participants/parties as needed, including:

o   Respondent and Counsel

o   Counsel and Witness

o   Counsel and Counsel

o   Counsel and HO

e.       A party shall be allowed to disconnect from the hearing to attend to administrative matters and the amount of time by a party spent off the record shall be in accordance with the CBA.

f.       Counsel shall make every effort to minimize any delays attributable to inadequate familiarity with the chosen platform or inappropriate equipment.

g.      The parties shall take all practicable steps to ensure the confidentiality of the proceeding. No person should have access to the live video and/or audio feed of the proceeding other than disclosed participants with a right to such access.

h.      The SED official transcription service shall be the sole method of transcribing the proceeding. The SED official transcription company shall only access the audio recording feature of the platform and shall be prohibited from accessing the video recording feed of the platform.

i.        No party, witness, or other participants in the hearing may record via audio or video, transcribe, or photograph the proceeding.

j.        No party, witness, or other participants in the hearing shall use any chat feature of the chosen platform.

           5.      Exhibits:

a.       Proposed exhibits in the format in which the exhibit will be entered shall be emailed, using a secure platform, to opposing counsel five (5) days in advance of the entry of the exhibit.

b.      Counsel for the parties shall confer two (2) days prior to the hearing date to make best efforts to stipulate to the exhibit’s entry. If the parties agree to the entry of an exhibit, the exhibit shall be pre-marked. If the parties are unable to stipulate to the entry of the exhibit, the proposed exhibit shall also be pre-marked.

c.       Prior to the hearing, counsel responsible for entering the exhibit shall email, using a secure platform, to the HO and opposing counsel, any exhibits which have been pre-marked and/or stipulated to. The provision to the HO of a pre-marked exhibit for which the parties have not agreed to entry shall be without prejudice to arguments or objections as to admissibility, weight, and/or relevance. Nothing herein prevents either party from introducing an exhibit or witness that was not pre-marked or identified.

6.      Mediation:

a.       The parties agree to mediate as many cases as possible or appropriate from ATU and TPU.

b.      The mediations shall also be remote and shall be complete by December 21, 2020. A second round of mediation will take place in 2021. Once the first round of mediation has concluded, the DOE will make every effort to identify additional cases for mediation to begin in March 2021.

c.       The arbitrators will be chosen by mutual selection of the parties.


Beth Norton                                                       
General Counsel                                               
United Federation of Teachers,                       
Local 2                                                                     

Howard Friedman
General Counsel
Board of Education of the City School District                                                      of the City of New York