(The following is a letter received from David Roemer, a former physics teacher and UFT member. I asked David to recount his experiences fighting for his job. Although the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal yesterday David believes his fight was not in vein if we learn something from it. A true educator.)
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I was terminated from my position as a tenured physics teacher at Edward R. Murrow High School in June 1998 as a result of a majority report of a panel convened to hear and determine charges brought against me pursuant to section 3020-a of Education Law. After unsuccessfully suing the Board of Education and the Public Employment Relations Board in state court, I filed a federal lawsuit in February 2001. The United States District Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2004 and the order was affirmed by the Second Circuit in September 2005. All of the papers in the case are on my website at www.dkroemer.com.
I began teaching at Midwood High School in Brooklyn in September 1984 with a license to teach Physics and General Science. In February 1990, I was excessed and transferred to Erasmus Hall High School where, I taught general science courses. At Erasmus Hall High School I attended many workshops and seminars and developed a learner- centered method of teaching science.
At every lesson I distributed a handout which explained the science concepts the students were expected to learn and which listed activities, problems, and questions the students worked on in class.
With this approach, students could learn from my oral presentation, from my written explanation, by doing the activities, and by having one-on-one conversations with me or their classmates. The children in my classes could learn at their own pace according to their individual learning styles.
In September 1994, I transferred to Edward R. Murrow High School. I employed the method of teaching I developed at Erasmus to teach Regents Physics. My supervisors at the new school, being accustomed to more highly-structured lessons and satisfied if not proud of their student’s progress in science, gave my lessons unsatisfactory ratings.
I applied for conciliation under Article 24 of the collective bargaining agreement. In December 1994, the Director of Related Staff Services of the Office of the Chancellor sent a letter authorizing conciliation for "the approach that should be used for the teaching of Physics." The conciliation process provided for the assignment of a conciliator who would attempt to draft an agreement binding on both sides and including an enforcement paragraph.
My supervisors did not attempt to conciliate, and, in May 1995, I filed a grievance against them and made it clear that my teaching would not change in the new academic year.
The Principal denied the grievance in June 1995, but stated falsely that the conciliator terminated the conciliation process. In fact, the conciliator did not terminate the process until November 1995.
The Superintendent denied my grievance in September 1995 and the UFT refused to go to step 3 in November 1995. However, I appealed to the Grievance Committee of the AdCom, who sent me a letter in February 1996 saying the disagreement about teaching should be settled by the conciliation process.
In March 1996, I was removed from the classroom for disciplinary purposes and, in November 1996, the Board of Education publicly voted to terminate me. At the public meeting, I addressed the members of the Board of Education and explained my method of teaching science.
In April 1997, at pre-hearing conferences with a hearing officer held pursuant to Education Law, the dispute was settled. I agreed to be suspended without pay for two months and to give up my appointment to Edward R. Murrow High School by transferring to another school. I did not see any injustice in having to leave Edward R. Murrow. However, I was indignant over the loss of two months pay when I carried out my professional obligations in a way that was above reproach. My belief then and now and I said so the Second Circuit, that the filing of charges against me under Education Law was a hoax, a fraud, and a crime. Their motive for filing charges was to avoid the conciliation process and the step 3 grievance hearing.
What happened next illustrates the adage, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." In violation of Education Law, the Board of Education did not implement the settlement and disciplinary hearings took place. In June 1998, the majority of the panel said I should be terminated and the minority said I should be allowed to transfer to another school with no other penalty.
I retained an attorney filed a petition to vacate the findings of the panel. Unfortunately, the papers this attorney submitted contained only trivial technicalities. I discharged him and hired a second attorney who advised me that I had no grounds for suing in state court. I filed additional papers pro se in an attempt to explain the case to the state judge, but my lawsuit was dismissed.
The grounds for dismissing my federal lawsuit was that the matter was already decided in state court. I argued that I did not get a full and fair opportunity to litigate in state court because the defendants did not answer my real complaint which was contained in the additional papers I filed.
I also argued in federal court that section 3020-a(5) was unfair because teachers were not allowed to appeal arbitration awards on the grounds that they are arbitrary and capricious, which is the standard of Article 78 of the Civil Practice Laws and Rules of New York. Prior to 1994, teachers and boards of education were allowed to sue under Article 78. The Education Department of New York State vigorously opposed the change because it makes it virtually impossible for boards of education to appeal irrational decisions by hearing officers. The district court ruled that the law was not unconstitutional.
It is my belief that the Second Circuit did not read my brief or the papers I filed asking them to sanction the New York City Law Department for violating Disciplinary Rules in the Lawyer's Code of Professional Responsibility.
Very truly yours,