Tweed Finds New Way to Harm Teachers: Flag them for Principals
by Lynne Winderbaum, retired ESL teacher, JFK HS, and former Bronx High School UFT District Rep
Principal’s Weekly May 1, 2012
New Notification of Employee Disciplinary Flags
In accordance with the DOE’s effort to provide more comprehensive personnel information to principals, employees who have been the subject of disciplinary action will be identified with a flag symbol in Galaxy. The DOE is currently conducting a review of prior disciplinary cases and will be updating Galaxy with disciplinary flags as this review proceeds. Going forward, flags indicating employee disciplinary actions will be displayed in Galaxy.
Please note that access to this information is limited to principals and is confidential. You may share this information with your assistant principal(s) but you should not share this information with students, families, members of the community, or other staff members.
For questions, contact your senior field counsel or network HR director.
Somewhere in the middle of the Department of Education’s weekly advisory to New York City principal’s, this notice was buried. It may have escaped the notice of the union. It may have escaped the notice of almost all of the teachers and other employees whose careers would be affected. But it will not escape the notice of principals at hiring time who will now see certain applicants’ names boldly emblazoned with a flag. The flag, like the scarlet letter, identifies them as having been the subject of an allegation of misconduct. It does not mean that the employees have been found guilty of any wrongdoing, simply that they were accused and the subject of an investigation. In fact, many of them were never found guilty of anything or were forced to accept a file letter or fine to settle the charges of which they were innocent as a plea bargain. In that way, they could return to their livelihoods.
For now, the Department of Education is claiming that only those who have been subject to OSI or SCI investigations will be flagged. But no reading of this advisory precludes flagging any teacher or employee “going forward” who were simply “subjects of disciplinary actions” such as letters in file.
Branding teachers with a flag in Galaxy means that anyone seeking to work at a new school under the Open Market transfer plan or as an ATR whose school has closed and who is now seeking a new teaching assignment, will be denied an interview. As such, this constitutes a change in teachers’ working conditions. Article 19 H1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, signed by the Department of Education says that “The Chancellor or his/her designated representative shall meet and consult once a month during the school year with representatives of the Union on matters of educational policy and development and on other matters of mutual concern.” Did the DOE ever attempt to propose this policy change that will stain innocent teachers to the UFT? Or did they just think they could slip it into the middle of principal’s weekly and prevent teachers from gaining employment without the union’s notice? Was it a misunderstanding of the agreements they signed with the union or was it another blatant example of the pattern of disrespect for the UFT and its members that has been the DOE’s way of operating since mayoral control?
Surely, no one wants to see teachers convicted of serious misconduct in front of students. But they are flagging the names of many teachers who are currently working in classrooms because they have never been found guilty of allegations! As they comb through their records of Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) probes, they will flag the names of many teachers who were innocent of charges but technically were “subject of disciplinary actions”. They may have signed stipulations that said that no admission of wrongdoing was implied but they would pay a fine or receive a letter to dispose of the matter. That way the DOE would not look like they penned a teacher in a rubber room for years on unfounded charges and the teacher could resume working. Win-win. But under this new policy, there could be belated consequences nonetheless.
As District Representative of Bronx High Schools for the UFT, I represented many members who accepted disciplinary actions as a plea bargain to make false charges against them go away so they could resume their jobs and leave the rubber room. More than anything, they wanted to spare their families any more torture and torment.
There was a middle aged teacher with a clean record out of Stevenson High School who was accused by a student of “humping her” on a daily basis as she sat on a stool in front of the class taking attendance as his monitor. Not a single child in the class witnessed this alleged action. But one friend who was not even in the class told investigators she saw it one day from the hallway. What prompted this horrific allegation? Her guidance counselor told her that morning she was failing this teacher’s class. So she came to his room, broke the glass on the door and shouted that she was going to get him. The OSI never interviewed the students in either the class where the misconduct supposedly took place or the class present when the ranting child broke the glass. OSI also failed to include the threat in their report. The teacher agreed to a U rating and a file letter in return for making it all go away and to go back to work. Well he will get a flag in Galaxy.
A world renowned music teacher at Kennedy HS who recorded with international stars was accused of harassment by a special education student a full year after an alleged incident. There were no witnesses or evidence to support the allegation. In fact, there were witnesses who testified to the emotional instability of the child. But the talented music teacher was removed from the classroom for a year and a half and finally agreed to a fine at 3020a to settle the case and return to work. It saved face for the DOE but such a teacher would now earn a flag. A former teacher at Astor Collegiate took a stipulation of settlement to make 3020a charges lodged by a female student go away. He admitted no guilt in the stipulation but he had to retire to get the deal. The student and her boyfriend had threatened to “get him fired” after he called her home. There was no corroborating evidence except the alleged victim and her boyfriend and the threat was not mentioned in the investigation. Flag for him.
A man with a successful business career made a mid-life career change to teach mathematics at Renaissance Theater HS. He wanted to “give back and make a contribution”. But his career was cut short when his principal tried to have him removed by urging students to come to her office and report him. A litany of minor incidents resulted such as “getting spittle” on a student while reprimanding him for misbehavior. That was described as “corporal punishment” and prompted a mandatory OSI investigation. He also took a stipulation to make it all end and left the system with charges dropped. A flag assures he will never come back.
A UFT chapter leader at Kennedy HS was totally exonerated of 3020a charges but accepted a letter to gain release from over a year in the rubber room. That is a “disciplinary action”. Flag.
Another chapter leader at Bronx Theater HS was exonerated at 3020a of serious charges brought by his principal but agreed to a letter and no finding of guilt to get of the rubber room after a year–the expeditious way an innocent man could get back to work and out from under an undeserved cloud. Flag anyway.
Then there are all the teachers detailed in the Thatcher Report which investigated the investigations. They were accused of helping students cheat on exams. The Thatcher Report was an embarrassment to the Board of Education because it found the investigations to be fatally flawed. They all went to the rubber room for months and were brought up on 3020a charges. The railroaded innocent teachers settled for letters in file to end the nightmare and were returned to the classroom. Do they take a flag?
A teacher at Stevenson ran afoul of her assistant principal and after a long, distinguished career inside and outside of the schools was brought up on charges of incompetence. Lacking evidence, the 3020a saved face by fining her and she accepted because, as a single mother, it returned her to work. Raise the flag on her.
I have represented many members who have agreed to fines, to letters in file, or to retire or resign to make the humiliation of the rubber room conditions end. They were not guilty of anything and the charges were not proven, but they could not foresee spending years under the shadow cast by the allegations and the pain it caused them and their families. Grab a flag, all of you.
And just because the Department contends that their unilateral actions will only apply to OSI and SCI investigations for the time being, doesn’t mean that the way the language of the policy is written precludes them from applying it to “disciplinary actions” such as file letters in the future, or removal from classrooms and suspensions of pay pending court cases in which the were acquitted. If we don’t stop it here, the implications of that would be chilling to those victims of supervisory abuse as well.
Readers who believe that anecdotal cases do not prove the point should know that many teachers who read this have been victims of the same system that investigates any and all allegations and makes them part of a permanent record whether they are substantiated or not. And if not personally a victim, surely they know teachers in their schools who have been so tarred. One thing we can agree on based on this policy and the cases I have described is that any effort on the part of the Department of Education to tarnish teachers’ reputations based on a record of disciplinary actions taken against them even if the charges were dismissed or unproven must be challenged. The ability of teachers to utilize the Open Market or find jobs when their schools close cannot be limited by a policy that entraps the innocent and cuts the union out of its formation.
In an era of blaming and bashing teachers for everything and anything, it is time to stand up and say “enough”. The flagging of teachers based on “disciplinary actions” must be taken up by the union and its members who deserve the respect of the rights of the innocent and the honor of the agreement of the Department of Education to discuss damaging policy changes with the union before enacting them unilaterally.