Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Teacher Discipline: Where the Rubber Meets the Room

Back in 1839 Charles Goodyear accidentally touched his sulfur-laden hands with a substance he had been working on for over seven years to make useful. This substance fell into a vat on a stove and became the precursor of vulcanized rubber.

While Goodyear’s serendipitous discovery yielded a great benefit for us all it is less clear what benefit its namesake, the “rubber room” has had for our members.

The “rubber room” is the place where suspended teachers report every school day instead of their assigned schools. It is unclear how the place was named. Some say it derived from the “rubber-gun” squad (suspended police officers) or that it was named because after a short time suspended teachers feel like banging their heads against the wall.

Under state law teacher suspensions are handled differently than most of the rest of the civil service. Education Law Section 3202-a(b), which contains most of the disciplinary procedures for teachers provides that “The employee may be suspended pending a hearing on the charges and the final determination thereof. The suspension shall be with pay, except the employee may be suspended without pay if the employee has entered a guilty plea to or has been convicted of a felony crime...”

Additionally our contract provides similarly that “Any teacher who is suspended pending hearing and determination of charges shall receive full compensation pending such determination and imposition of any penalty except as set forth in Article 21G4.”

At first blush this procedure appears rational and protective of teachers. After all a person accused of a disciplinary violation is protected from loss of pay (although not loss of reputation) while an investigation is being done. Under provisions of the Civil Service Law other civil servants can be suspended, without pay, for up to thirty days. It seemingly protects the City (and children) by removing a potentially dangerous person from the school.

Seen at this level the policy seems fair but we know different. Since the DOE is given unfettered discretion to reassign a teacher to the rubber room there is little downside to making an incorrect decision. While the children end up suffering (along with the teacher) the DOE can use this power in a very disruptive political fashion. Thus teachers disfavored by a principal can be subjected to this power to quash union activity or other purposes not directly associated with teaching.

In the course of contract negotiations the DOE totally manipulated a couple of extreme cases to demonstrate that we should be giving concessions in this area. Randi took the bait and in a clearly ill-advised statement agreed that the policy did not remove the “dangerous teachers” from the system fast enough. Thanks for your support.

It is difficult to defend child abusers, pedophiles and others who should not be near children let alone be teaching them. However, the last that I looked our law and contract are based in our society’s fundamental notions of due process…the right to a fair shake. When we throw our accused to the lions we might as well not have a union.

Under the Civil Service Law city employees are entitled to notice of the charges and specifications against them at the end of their 30 day suspension or they must be reinstated. Rather than allow the DOE to abuse our suspension procedures in furtherance of their own political agenda let’s change the contract to require detailed notice of the charges or reinstatement within a reasonable time and the ability to test the DOE’s decision to assign one of our members to the “rubber room.”

While certain time limits were imposed in the last contract the fact that there is no incentive for the DOE to investigate has shown that these provisions are totally useless.

Rather than agree with the anti-union rhetoric our leaders should be molding the discussion in a way that protects our members and our children.

1 comment:

coudawoudashouda said...

Just one comment: It's not the union who hires teachers, it's the city. If they can't get it right, it's convenient for them to blame the union. 'nuf said.