Sunday, March 23, 2008
Have the UFT & DOE Weakened Our Due Process Protections Under the State 3020-a Laws?
There is little question that more and more teachers are being removed from their classrooms (315 in 2003 to 757 in 2007) and many of them are charged under State education law 3020-a. These teachers are removed from the classroom and eventually reassigned to a Teacher Reassignment Center, commonly known as the "rubber room". Some of these teachers are removed from the classroom for serious felony charges like having sex with a student, hitting a student, selling drugs, or stealing school funds. However, these serious charges are probably 5% of the total number of teachers in the "rubber rooms". Approximately 50% of these teachers are there for incompetence and the rest for minor or frivolous misconduct issues (of course some teachers are there under false accusations), primarily due to an administrator who doesn't like that teacher.
Regardless of why, the teachers find themselves in the "rubber room", most of them can expect 3020-a charges to be filled against them. The New York State Education Law allows tenured teachers to have an impartial arbitration hearing to determine the remedy of the alleged charges against them. The remedy can range from an acquittal to termination. However, over the years the UFT and DOE have weakened these teacher due process protections that tenured teachers enjoy under New York State laws. How were they weakened? Let me count the ways.
First, The NYC version of the 3020-a process has selected 20 arbitrators who hear all the 3020-a cases for the New York City Teachers. To keep their jobs, their decisions can be influenced by the UFT and DOE who pay them. Therefore, these arbitrators will tend to "split the baby" when it comes to the remedy. The result is very few aquittals or terminations but fines or suspensions are likely. Under the State 3020-a outside New York City the arbitrator is only allowed to hear one case every two years. Therefore, they do not rely on the income and are more likely to come up with the proper decision.
Second, Under State 3020-a the teacher is allowed to reject an arbitrator. based upon the arbitrator's record. However, no such teacher choice is allowed under the UFT & DOE agreed process. The teacher is stuck with whatever arbitrator is randomly selected for the case.
Third, with teacher incompetence cases, the State 3020-a process allows for a three arbitrator panel. No such three arbitrator panel exists under the NYC 3020-a process.
Fourth, under State 3020-a, there must be a pre-hearing conference to ensure that a list of witnesses are exchanged and the charges are finalized. However, under the NYC version of 3020-a there are cases where there are no pre-hearings and the case is started without the teacher or attorney aware of the witnesses until the last minute.
Fifth, in the NYC 3020-a process the arbitrators are teamed up with a NYSUT lawyer and a DOE lawyer. This trio will be together for up to three years. That to me, is an uncomfortable familiarity at the expense of the teacher. The State 3020-a has nothing like this approach.
Finally, only in the NYC version of the 3020-a process can teachers be suspended without pay or health benefits, for non-felony issues. In fact, in some cases hearsay is only needed to suspend a teacher for up to three months. This "probable cause" section of the contract has resulted in many teachers being suspended based upon hearsay evidence.
Presently, there is a lawsuit filed by teachers4action.com that is trying to address some, if not most of these issues. However, this lawsuit is in it's early stages and whatever comes of it will be in the distant future. I can only hope that this lawsuit will result in the teachers regaining their due process rights under the State 3020-a regulations.
Have the UFT & DOE weakened our due process rights under 3020-a? You better believe they have!