Sunday, March 03, 2013

The DOE, UFT, And The Rubber Room.

The assailed teacher wrote a very heart-felt article on his evolution as a clueless "newbie teacher" who worshiped his Principal to a knowledgeable Chapter Leader who. with eyes wide open, sees the injustice and hypocrisy that permeates the New York City schools. Part of his evolution is how he perceived teachers who were banished to the "rubber room".  At first, he assumed, like many teachers, that those teachers reassigned were perverts, beaters, or committed financial larceny.  However, as he saw colleagues reassigned to the "rubber room" for bogus or frivolous incidents he soon realized that the Administration was removing teachers not for serious misconduct but because they didn't like the teacher, be it for complaining, age, salary, or for their own prejudice. This post will explain, from a largely first-hand perspective the evolution of the "rubber room" and why the amount of reassigned teachers exploded starting in 2005 and only ended in 2010 with the Rubber Room Agreement.

Historically teachers were reassigned out of the classroom and away from children when accused of "major misconduct", usually corporal, financial, or sexual in nature.  These teachers waited for their 3020-a hearings at district or regional offices doing clerical work.  The average number of reassigned teachers was between 80-100 on a yearly basis.  The numbers started to inch up under the Rudolf Giuliani Administration into the low hundreds as the first non-educator, Harold Levy, became Chancellor.  However, it was not until Michael Bloomberg came into office and appointed non-educator and failed classroom teacher, Joel Klein, as Chancellor did the number of reassigned teachers significantly increase. 

During Chancellor Joel Klein's reign of terror and disrespect the number of reassigned teachers skyrocketed to an astonishing 802 by 2008.  It was really more since the thirteen "rubber rooms' (downsized to seven by 2010) were bursting at the seems and many teachers who principals wanted removed from their school were told by the DOE that there was no more room and to leave them in the teachers work room or any other room with no contact with children.  Rumors were there were half as many teachers reassigned out of the classroom (400) but not sent to the "rubber room". That meant that the real number of reassigned teachers at the peak may have been as high as 1,200. Various DOE officials who I talked to during these days confirmed that the principals were clamoring to remove teachers from their schools but since the reassignment centers were overcrowded, the principals appeals were refused with some exceptions.

You might want to know why the sudden increase in reassigned teachers during the Bloomberg/Klein years?  Yes, it was partly due to the anti-teacher attitude of the Chancellor and it was the the granting of more discretionary power to principals.  However,the major reason was the Chancellor's decision to remove teachers from the school's payroll after only 60 days once they are reassigned.  Previously, if a Principal removed a teacher, that teacher's salary stayed on the school's payroll through the entire school year.  Therefore, Principals had to think twice about removing a teacher if they still had to pay the teacher's salary and pay a substitute for the teacher's classes.  Consequently, only teachers accused of serious misconduct were removed. The result of Chancellor Joel Klein's decision to remove reassigned teachers from the school's payroll was the primary reason for the high number of both "reassigned" and "rubber room" teachers.

Presently, the "reassignment centers are now closed and reassigned teachers are sent to their school's "Children First Network" (CFN) offices to do little or no work (see Franseco Portelos)   However, since the teacher's salary must stay on the school's payroll until the end of the school year unless the teacher is removed for major misconduct, the number of reassigned teachers have dropped to 222, including administrators.

The UFT was very complicit in the "rubber room' fiasco as they rarely objected to the removal of a teacher or provide investigators of their own on obvious bogus or frivolous cases.  The UFT had special representatives who represented reassigned teachers and were, for the most part, useless.  Their advice to reassigned teachers is to say nothing to anybody and that the teacher sitting next to you could be a "snitch" and testify against you at your 3020-a hearing (in my almost five years of being rubberized, I never saw this happen). In other words the UFT told reassigned teachers to be "quiet and clueless to their fate"  Once the teacher was pressured to resign or terminated (20% of the time), the UFT's action was "don't let the door hit you in the ass as you leave".  I saw this first hand many of the time and that always bothered me that the UFT seemed to be on the side of the DOE in many of the cases at the Queens reassignment center. As the liaison at the Queens reassigned center I found myself explaining the rights to the reassigned teacher and what they can expect, especially, when it came to OSI and SCI investigations.  Too many teachers came in traumatized and in need of support, it was up to the liaison to provide comfort and clarity to their situation.  These put us in conflict with the union leadership as we felt it was our responsibility to let the reassigned teacher know what will happen to them, step by step in the reassignment process.  Knowledge is power and the union would badmouth the liaisons by telling reassigned teachers not to listen to us since we were a threat to the union because of our knowledge and respect by the "rubber room" teachers.  Of course almost all the teachers did look to the liaisons for information and in many cases we helped them make informed decisions about their fate in the 3020-a process.

My experience with the NYSUT lawyers who represented us in our 3020-a hearings was a positive one (sorry Betsy).  Overall the NYSUT lawyers were competent and tried their best to represent us.  Sure, there are cases when the teacher didn't think his or her NYSUT attorney was on their side but I believe that had more to do with the "Chemistry" between the NYSUT lawyer and the teacher and not the competence of their representing us.  Further, a minority of teachers had a private attorney represent them and had mixed results . Moreover, I was unimpressed with the DOE lawyers, they seemed unprepared and believed hearsay against the teacher was a proven fact only to fall apart in front of the independent Arbitrator.  In other words the DOE lawyer believed their own propaganda and in many cases the "Specifications" were either dismissed or reduced by the Arbitrator when real evidence was found wanting.  The DOE lawyers case is to throw as many accusations against the wall and hope that some stick.  They call this a "preponderance of evidence".  However, to the Arbitrator it is the preponderance of relevant evidence and not unsupported hearsay that is a major part of their "award".

  Unfortunately, for the teachers Arbitrator decisions do not follow a simple rubric but requires many different variables, some subjective, before they make an "award".  For example three teachers were found to have been drinking alcohol in a Queens High School classroom before open school night.  The three teachers received widely different "awards" from three different arbitrators.  One received a six-month suspension without pay, the second received a $25,000 fine, while the third teacher who actual bought the alcohol and brought it into the school and tried to get his student teacher to join in (she refused) received a $5,000 fine. In other words not all Arbitrators weigh the evidence the same way.  Some of my closest "rubber room" friends received terrible "awards" including terminations while others received a mere "slap on the wrist".  The best statement I can say about the 3020-a process and the "awards" that come out of it is "that every case is different" and I found that to be very true.

In summary, while there are no "rubber rooms" for reassigned teachers and fewer teachers are being reassigned since the Principal must show that the teacher committed major misconduct otherwise, the school still pays their salary for the school year, the union must be more pro-active and not reactive to teacher reassignments.  Furthermore, the union should start their own investigation when there is a reasonable suspicion that the Principal removed the teacher for personal or vindictive reasons and not let the teacher languish in a CFN for over a year


Anonymous said...


I didn't know the history of the rubber room and how it worked. Thanks for the info.

Assailed Teacher said...

I did not know that about principals having to keep reassigned teachers on their budget. Do you know when that happened?

You're right about the DOE throwing all types of accusation at a teacher in hopes that one will stick. I think it is also for the benefit of the arbitrator, who can say that they did not find the teacher guilty of all charges and therefore came to a fair ruling.

I have heard mixed reviews about NYSUT lawyers. The one lawyer that I had any experience with was stellar, probably the best NYSUT had. Unfortunately, lawyers are paired with arbitrators and he was paired with the worst arbitrator in the system (who thankfully is not there anymore).

One thing is clear: over the past 10 years, teachers are being reassigned and terminated at unprecedented rates. Principals are abusing the system, as is the DOE.

With all of the talk about the new teacher evaluations, the one thing that gets overlooked is the integrity (or lack thereof) of the 3020s process. With the provision that teachers charged with incompetency will, more often than not, have the burden of proof, veteran teachers have a lot to fear. In my opinion, Mulgrew et al should have never agreed to a framework without pushing to restore some sort of integrity for the 3020a process.

Chaz said...

I understand it started 1n the 2010-11 school year and was one of the reasons that Joel Klein left.

Anonymous said...

Good for you. I really learned about those teacher reassignment centers from your blog.

Shame on our union for their lack of action to protect their teachers.