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Tweed Finds New Way to Harm Teachers: Flag them for Principals

May 16, 2012 pm31 3:10 pm

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
All schools

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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. shulmandl permalink
    May 16, 2012 pm31 4:33 pm 4:33 pm

    Wonder if they are flagging John Chase, especially after the log comment from a previous colleague?

    • Lynne Winderbaum permalink
      May 17, 2012 am31 9:52 am 9:52 am

      I know your tongue is in your cheek but this policy is written in the Principal’s Weekly so they can eliminate personnel from their interview pool. Therefore all the principals are safe even if they, unlike the flagged teachers, have been found guilty and had disciplinary action taken against them. So Chase is safe after the OEO finding of sexual harassment, Blige is safe after her SCI finding guilt and a $7000 fine for pre-determining U ratings before observing teachers, Kirkweg is safe after the Air Force pulled her funding for misappropriation, Rotunno (who is back in the system) is safe after the NYS Comptroller found he partied with $90,000 in school funds, and Saraceno is safe after the OSI found she changed grades, and on and on. This is only about heaping more distress on teachers.

      • shulmandl permalink
        May 18, 2012 am31 8:27 am 8:27 am

        Another commenter to a post on this blog mentioned an incident with John Chase at a previous school ( the Principal is named) where he was inappropriate with a student. I wonder if OSI was ever notified as required in these matters? I wonder if that Principal was herself investigated for that failure and whether, in light of the current purge, that incident should be brought to the attention of OSI again?

        I wonder if the UFT needs to advise its members NOT to make OEO complaints but to use OSI instead?

  2. Chaz permalink
    May 16, 2012 pm31 4:55 pm 4:55 pm

    I wrote about this on May 3 and you can find it here.

    As for John Chase Jr? He was only subjected to an OEO investigation and therefore has no discipline flags on his galaxy file.

  3. Rover permalink
    May 17, 2012 am31 5:23 am 5:23 am

    Who says OEO investigations leave no flag….think again.

  4. Ja'far permalink
    May 17, 2012 am31 7:32 am 7:32 am

    There is an entire cohort of the innocent which has been omitted in this article. As good as it reads, it neglects to mention the thousands of teachers whose contracts were rendered “null and void” because of not gaining tenure at the end of their third and qualifying year of teaching. I am one of them. I was given a U-rating at the end of my third year of teaching, which was the first and only unsatisfactory rating I had ever received. The principal who issued this rating was herself denied confirmation after not meeting the approval of the C30 Process. The superintendent from my district (District 3) who blindly signed off on the U-ratings of not only myself, but seven other very competent professionals at the school was promoted by the DoE after that to become “superintendent of superintendents” at Tweed after only a year at the helm of District 3.
    What disturbs me is that the UFT seems to be involved in this entire mess. The thousands of us who have been “discontinued” were all “flagged” in the system. Many of us went out very early in search of securing employment in other districts because as it is erroneously understood, “any teacher who has received a U-rating in one district is allowed to work in any of the other districts within the city except the one in which the U-rating was received.” I was told this by representatives from the UFT, the union within which I was a proud, paying and active member. I expect, now, that the UFT and the DoE IS in collusion. I have sat through no less than a half-dozen interviews with principals in other districts in the city, as well as with personnel managers from private entities who are affiliated with the DoE only to be informed after what became successful interviews on my part that I was “ineligible” to be hired and that I needed to seek redress with the DoE.
    I sat for my U-rating appeals hearing in October and have yet to be given a decision. The only constant is that I have been flagged. My pedagogy, community involvement and professionalism now rests under a cloud of uncertainty brought on by this flagging within the system. There is no evidence of wrong-doing, incompetence or lack of professionalism on my part as a teacher. The DoE (and to a certain extent, the UFT) are both culpable in the denial of thousands of competent professionals their right to secure gainful employment in order to adequately support their families. This is criminal and the scale is wide. Comrades, do not forget those of us who were not permitted to enter the qualifying steps of the tenure process only to have tenure “denied” in the end. Do not forget those of us who were not granted a probationary extension at the end of the third year of teaching. The state of affairs in public education within NYC and this nation of ours is very sad. New York City is the proving ground, though. What goes over here in this city is then carried out easily everywhere else. Free the land! Liberate labor! Free your minds!

    • Lynne Winderbaum permalink
      May 17, 2012 am31 9:45 am 9:45 am

      You are so right. I could write a book on the careers of idealistic and dedicated new teachers whose careers were cut short by principals for reasons that had nothing to do with their pedagogy! Principals or “leaders” who have never taught or have very thin experience, cannot train teachers. Plus, there are schools where probationary teachers have been on a hit list for joining the UFT chapter committee, for speaking up at a faculty conference, for reporting wrongdoing. The whisper is…”shut up until you get tenure.” Rest assured that even if the U rating appeal decides 3-0 in your favor, the DOE will still proceed with the discontinuance or denial of completion of probation. Maybe I WILL
      write a book!

  5. shulmandl permalink
    May 17, 2012 am31 10:28 am 10:28 am

    What is it about the DOE that when it suits them, it’s all about the business model, and when it doesn’t, they indelibly brand someone? When there was a BOE, there were plenty of alleged “poor fits” between staff and their supervisors. Generally that meant that the staff member got a new start somewhere else. The overwhelming majority of cases resulted in a “fit” that was much better.

    In the private sector, employers have learned to NEVER disparage former employees. They move on. Thefts, misbehavior, theft of service–all excused! Let’s see what happens to the employees who lost JP Morgan Chase 2 billion dollars. They will move on.

    In the gulag that is the current DOE, you are a third class person.

    I know many current and former teachers whose family, like cops, had generations of educators. Ask staff today today if they are encouraging their kids to join the profession. I have heard third generation teachers say that they would do anything to prevent their kids from teaching in NYC.

    These DOE geniuses, who cannot now recruit enough qualified staff, are tainting the potential pool of new staff. Combine that with low starting salaries, and minuscule annual salary increases make it tough to attract real talent and retain it.

    If the City of New York wants Police or Firefighters ten times the applicants apply as jobs available. The DOE cannot get enough applicants, but rules out the hundreds of “poor fits”, knowing full well the history of those staff performing quite well in a different setting.

    The explanation is very clear–the attempt to destroy Public Education and create a profit center for private enterprise.

  6. May 18, 2012 am31 4:41 am 4:41 am


    thank you for sharing me on this nice topic its a great topic ….
    If things are so wonderful, where are my flying car and jet backpack?

  7. Sean permalink
    May 19, 2012 am31 11:17 am 11:17 am

    Thank you for alerting us to this. Would a teacher learn whether they had been flagged on Galaxy by looking at their file?

    • Lynne Winderbaum permalink
      May 19, 2012 pm31 1:37 pm 1:37 pm

      No, Galaxy personnel files can only be accessed by principals. I guess a teacher would know when he or she cannot get a job interview!

  8. Lynne Winderbaum permalink
    May 19, 2012 pm31 1:47 pm 1:47 pm

    I just found a copy of the template for a stipulation of settlement in my files. It is the boilerplate we used to settle cases when a teacher plea bargains to a minor disciplinary action in order to return to the classroom. As with other plea bargains, innocent people make this agreement in order to be able to resume working and get on with their lives. It is an agreement between the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers. “Item #4 says, ‘The parties agree that the execution of this settlement shall not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing by any party. Further more, this Stipulation of Settlement shall not be offered in evidence for any purpose, or for any administrative, judicial or other proceeding except for the purpose of enforcing the obligation contained herein'”. See how the DOE keeps its word?

  9. Vincent C. Wojsnis permalink
    May 20, 2012 pm31 12:19 pm 12:19 pm

    Thank you, Lynne, for writing this. I’ll forward it to as many teachers I know.

  10. Anonymous permalink
    May 20, 2015 pm31 4:23 pm 4:23 pm

    Does filing a notice of intention to file a claim or a notice of claim result in a flag in your file or is it just if you file a lawsuit? Does the NYCDOE penalize those who take any of these actions and if so, how?


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