Rubber Rooms Are Inflexible: Teachers Are Pawns in the Bloomberg/Klein Push to Weaken Tenure and Teacher Unions, Is This War Interminable?

 For years the great debate in the state legislature was over the death penalty. Republicans and conservative democrats introduced legislation and the sides clashed. After a decade of battling a death penalty law passed over the veto of Governor Cuomo. A republican wag bemoaned the victory, “We should never have pushed so hard, what can we run on in the next election?”
 
Rubber rooms, aka, Teacher Reassignment Centers, are a political, not an educational issue. Many of the six hundred or so teachers are pawns in a struggle to weaken the teacher union and erode tenure.
 
As with the death penalty debate: why resolve the rubber room issue, the mileage is endless …
 
A New York Daily News website search lists 446 references to “rubber rooms,” with articles critical of teachers . The New York Post, on successive weeks featured long time rubber room habitues who were found either found not guilty or reprimanded, but the Department has decided to sentence them to “life” terms (see here and here) . Is this the fault of the union? or, the fault of an inept and/or politically motivated school system?
 
A NY Post columnist wants ot suspend them without pay based on accusations, guilty until proven innocent.
 
For Joel Klein the major obstacle to implementing his “reforms” is the teacher union. Keeping pressure on the union, newspaper article after newspaper article in the local dailies and the national magazines frames the union as defending the undefendable. If only the union’s grasp can be loosened we can rid the system of the “losers” and create a truly child-centered system, avers Joel.
 
The long delays in investigating accusations and scheduling hearings is the fault of the Department, the contract sets forth an expedited process,
  1. The parties are committed to having these cases heard in an expeditious manner. For this reason, absent extraordinary circumstances, arbitrators are not to adjourn hearing dates. It should be noted that normally attorney or party scheduling conflicts are not extraordinary circumstances.
  2. In all cases, as delineated in Education Law §3020-a the final hearing shall be completed no later than 60 days from the pre-hearing conference and the written decision must be rendered within 30 days from the final hearing date.
 
And, who is at fault if the Department cannot prove their accusations before well regarded arbitrators selected jointly by the Union and the Department?
  
(As discussed and agreed upon, all parties would be served better by the implementation of a permanent arbitration panel. The panel members must be agreeable to both sides,.

Panel members shall serve for a maximum of a one-year term. At the expiration of such term, the parties must agree to have arbitrators continue to serve on the panel, and if not, replacement members will be elected by the method outlined above. Removal prior to the end of the one-year term must be for good and sufficient cause upon mutual agreement of the parties.)

 
Pre-Klein, under specific circumstances teachers were removed from teaching duties, usually at full pay while the precipitating event was investigated. The teacher either sat in the district office, or, was assigned to administrative duties. Currently teachers fester in rubber rooms without any duties.
 
Arrest for felonies specified in the contract allow for suspensions without pay,
 
  • the felony sale, possession, or use of marijuana, a controlled substance, or a precursor of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia as defined in Article 220 or 221 of the Penal Law, or
  • any crime involving physical abuse of a minor or student (crimes involving sexual abuse of a minor or student are addressed in paragraph 6 below.), or
  • any felony committed either on school property or while in the performance of teaching duties, or
  • any felony involving firearms as defined in Article 265 of the Penal Law.
  •  
    There were probably several hundred teachers awaiting a resolution at any one time in the pre-Klein era, now over 600.
     
    The most common reasons for assignment to a rubber room:
     
    * A misdemeanor  arrest for a non-school related crime, ranging from DWI, possession of a controlled substance, public lewdness, assault, etc. The police frequently “charge up,” allowing the District Attorney to negotiate a guilty plea to a lesser charge. After months the charges are frequently dismissed or adjourned contemplating dismissal (ACD), or a guilty plea to a “violation” with a fine and or community service. The teacher usually returns to the classroom.
     
    * An accusation of misconduct, i.e., corporal punishment, verbal abuse, inappropriate conduct with students, insubordination to supervisors, etc., which is investigated either by the superintendent or the Office of Special Investigations. The process drags out over many months. At the conclusion of the investigations the DOE can prefer charges under provisions of the State Education Law (section 3020a).
     
    * Incompetence: charges that the quality of teaching is so poor that the teacher should be discharged. Relatively few teachers in the rubber rooms are charged with incompetence.
     
    A typical case: a student is misbehavingm a teacher asks him to step into the hallway to speak with the student. The student shoves the teacher, in full view of another teacher. The student is threatened with suspension and claims the teacher hit him. The teacher is ensconsed in the rubber room while OSI “invesitgates,” the question to the teacher witness,”What is your relationship to the accused teacher?” When the teacher responds that it’s none of the OSI’s business, the kid psuhed the teacher, the accused teacher simply sits in the rubber room.
     
    The DOE-UFT contract had very specific timelines, that are uniformly ignored by the Department.
     
    Where the Board conducts an investigation of an employee and the employee has been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of such investigation, the parties agree that the employee will be restored to service no later than 6 months from the date of his or her removal unless Education Law §3020-a charges have been preferred against the employee ….This requirement to restore an employee to service after 6 months does not include investigations conducted by the Special Commissioner of Investigation or investigations that are related to criminal prosecutions.
     
    It is commonplace for the investigations to drag on beyond the six month limitation, and if the Department does prefer charges the scheduling of the hearings is also dragged out interminably by the Department.
     
    The state regulations are precise as the nature of the decision, the penalties imposed and the responsibilities of the employing board,
     
     The written decision shall include the hearing officer`s findings of fact on each charge, his or her conclusions with regard to each charge based on said findings and shall state what penalty or other action, if any, shall be taken by the employing board. At the request of the employee, in determining what, if any, penalty or other action shall be imposed, the hearing officer shall consider the extent to which the employing board made efforts towards correcting the behavior of the employee which resulted in charges being brought under this section through means including but not limited to: remediation, peer intervention or an employee assistance plan. In those cases where a penalty is imposed, such penalty may be a written reprimand, a fine, suspension for a fixed time without pay, or dismissal. In addition to or in lieu of the aforementioned penalties, the hearing officer, where he or she deems appropriate, may impose upon the employee remedial action including but not limited to leaves of absence with or without pay, continuing education and/or study, a requirement that the employee seek counseling or medical treatment or that the employee engage in any other remedial or combination of remedial actions.
      
    If the procedures are clear in contract and state regulation why is the Department “allowed” to blatantly ignore timelines?  Part of the problem is that the Department of Ed/teacher relationship is an employer/employee relationship not government/citizen, it is an abrogation of regulation not law. The State Education Department is the supervising agency, they rarely act vigorously to force implementation of state regulations, note the widespread violations in the placement and servicing of the state special education service model.
     
    Will anything change?
     
    There is no incentive for Joel Klein to change, article after article flailing teachers and their union may pressure the union to soften tenure rules. Any “resolution” of the rubber room issues removes a bargaining chip from the table, chips from which Joel has gotten incredible ink.
     
    If the mayor has a national agenda the “permanent revolution” may not be the path to follow. Yes, dangling and intertwining rubber rooms, tenure and salary, from the perspective of the mayor, could result in a trade-off for a less expensive contract; however, the resolution of thorny issues may accrue more than the never-ending snarling.
     
    Time is on the side of the union. Fact-finding is a non-binding lengthy procedure. The state legislature has been kicked around so often by the chancellor and the mayor that they abhor city agendas. The union membership, probably unanimously, supports not “giving up” any core principles, and, the more the union battles the happier the membership. Foregoing a raise for a year or two is worthwhile to protect tenure.
     
    As states begin to push back the Obama-Duncan educational agenda begins to teeter, especially with the 2010 congressional elections looking like a debacle.
     
    The trench warfare combat has no end in sight, a stalemate with each side lobbing grenades and peering out of their foxholes only to read the commentary in the media.
     
    Improving instruction? It’ll have to take a back seat until the fog of war disappears, after all, wounding and weakening the union is the highest priority.
     
    UPDATE: An interview/”documentary” with some rubber room teachers (http://www.rubberroommovie.com/)
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    27 responses to “Rubber Rooms Are Inflexible: Teachers Are Pawns in the Bloomberg/Klein Push to Weaken Tenure and Teacher Unions, Is This War Interminable?

    1. Pingback: Remainders: The “Plan B” hidden in the USDOE’s budget | GothamSchools

    2. As a rubber room inmate for almost three years
      –without charges no less–you are right on target. TRCs are a useful tool for Klein’s jihad against the UFT.

      But do not ignore the invidious role of the UFT that does NOTHING for teachers while they are investigated (i.e. prosecuted) by OSI and OEO prior to reassignment. Special reps sit like potted plants during interviews and refuse to give copies of their notes to subjects.

      After substantiated reports are handed back to teachers, the UFT gives up and hands the ball off to NYSUT lawyers instead of helping teachers to shoot holes in the reports, which are often corrupted, in view of making it harder for DOE lawyers to proceed to 3020a’s.

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    3. The concept and the existence of so called “rubber rooms” is deplorable and a shameful waste of human and financial resources regardless of our present precarious economic conditions. Forget about the concept of due process and rational behavior: the Department of Education has been able to side-step and make excuses for disrgarding both notions. Regardless of the alleged charges against a teacher, why has this method of punishment before a hearing allowed to continue for many years without some concerted outcry by citizen and watchdog groups, public officials and our own UFT? There are no excuses for having a need for “rubber rooms” as part of our educational judicial process: save that type of justice for those terrorists who have or will have attempted to harm our citizens here and abroad.
      during this precarious state of war against terrorism. Certainly we can devise ans utilize a much better system of justice for those teachers accused of alleged acts or behaviors that should be addressed with fairness, swiftness and with the concept of justice that one is considered innocent until proven otherwise. Am I just fooling myself with my own thoughts?

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