Thursday, December 25, 2008

Letter to State Ed Commissioner: Stop Academic Apartheid

Jamaica High School UFT
167-01 Gothic Drive
Jamaica, NY 11432

December 18, 2008

Mr. Richard P.Mills
State Education Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Via email:
& fax: (518) 473-4909

Dear Commissioner Mills:

We recently received a copy of a letter from Garth Harries, Chief Executive Officer for Portfolio Development, sent to you in response to our letter to you dated August 20, 2008, about the situation at Jamaica High School. Mr. Harries does not adequately address the central themes of the original letter: separate and unequal schools existing in the same building, what we call “academic apartheid,” and the need to lower class sizes so that all students have an ample opportunity to succeed. We would like to meet with you to investigate the issues further and take corrective action.

The State provided the City with Contracts for Excellence funds and in exchange, required the city to adopt a plan in which class sizes would be reduced to 23 in high school classes, as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Settlement. Instead, the Department of Education has taken away valuable space from our students to give it to Queens Collegiate, the new selective school placed within our building and is planning to take even more space away from our school in the years to come. Taking this space away from Jamaica High School will make the goal of substantially lower class sizes for our students impossible to achieve.

As we stated in August when referring to the city’s class size plan, approved in the fall of 2007 by the state, the DOE pledged that “decisions regarding the co-location of a new school or program in an existing building will explicitly take into account the decisions and plans principals have made regarding reduced class size. It is important to be clear that the DOE will not place a new school or program in a building at the expense of those schools and programs already operating within the building and that these decisions will be made in consultation with school principals.”[i]

Mr. Harries in his letter claims the following: “The evaluation of available space throughout the system is based on the Standard Instructional Footprint that is applied to all schools sharing space.” He adds that “The DOE honors a school’s current class size – or an approved plan to reduce class size in the case where a principal has not previously been able to do so – but we also expect that the school is making full use of specialty rooms consistent with this footprint.”

If we do the math, we can clearly see that Mr. Harries’ “footprint” system is flawed at Jamaica High School. Our school has 57 regular classrooms and seven special education classrooms available. In addition, we have four labs, two music rooms, five computer rooms and one room used to house students who have been suspended. This is what is available for our roughly 1,500 students. We expect our population to grow or at least hold steady due to the recruiting efforts we have made in the community.

This year, we have already lost five full-time classrooms to Queens Collegiate for their incoming grade nine class as well as some lab and gymnasium space for part of the day. In addition, we have lost two other classrooms that have been turned into office space for our school because Queens Collegiate took away some of our administrative space as well. As Queens Collegiate grows by adding a grade ten class next year, we will be compelled to give up three more classrooms. In subsequent years, we understand Queens Collegiate is slated to expand to include grades 6-12 which will require Jamaica to relinquish even more of our classroom space. We will clearly not have sufficient space to lower class sizes significantly. Queens Collegiate will also be taking additional lab space and a greater portion of Jamaica’s gymnasiums. This unsustainable situation would seem to indicate that DOE is not intending to honor any commitment to significantly lower class sizes at Jamaica High School.

Let us examine the current class size situation. The latest DOE figures show Queens Collegiate has an average class size of 22.5 while Jamaica High School has an average of 26.1. As of December 9, 2008, Jamaica High School had 61 classes filled to the UFT contractual maximum class size of 34 and an additional six physical education classes at the cap of 50. When we delve into the numbers further, we see that there are 132 subject classes that have class sizes with over 30 students at Jamaica High School and 18 physical education classes over 45. These classes are far above the goal of 23 on average that the city has adopted for academic classes.

In order to reduce our class sizes from a maximum of 34 to 23, it would be necessary to create 70 additional classes and hire 14 extra teachers. There is no way these class size reductions can be achieved with the number of rooms allocated for Jamaica High School, especially as the number of rooms available to us will shrink as Queens Collegiate expands as planned within our building. Those 70 additional classes needed for class size reduction will require classrooms. Even if it were possible to program each particular classroom for eight periods per day, nine additional classrooms would still be required to meet the goal of 23 per class. Instead, we will be losing more classrooms to Queens Collegiate making the goal of substantially lower class size virtually impossible to attain.

It also needs to be understood that Department of Education class size figures should be examined very closely to ensure that they are accurate. The DOE often links classes on the register, making it appear that class sizes are smaller than they actually are. For example, we have Spanish classes that are linked with Spanish honors’ classes, since there are not enough honors’ pupils to run separate classes. Therefore, on the school’s organization chart there will be a Spanish 3 class with 23 pupils and a Spanish 3 honors’ class with 11. They both meet at the exact same time, in the same room and with the same teacher, but the DOE lists them as separate classes and can claim lower class sizes. In reality, there is one class with one teacher providing instruction for 34 pupils, rather than two smaller classes as reported.

Mr. Harries claims that Queens Collegiate has greater per pupil funding compared with Jamaica only because of “some start up funds.” He says, “New schools receive additional start up funds in their first year to off-set the cost of setting up offices and outfitting instructional spaces, i.e. classrooms gymnasiums, labs, etc.” Queens Collegiate is using Jamaica’s science labs and gym space; therefore it appears as though the start up funds are being utilized to outfit a school that is technologically superior to the school with which it shares space. Look at a Queens Collegiate classroom and compare it to a Jamaica High School classroom. While Queens Collegiate has smart boards in all of their rooms, Jamaica does not. While their rooms are freshly painted and both of their offices have brand new furniture as well as new equipment, our facilities are for the most part dilapidated. It is clear to anyone who has eyes that these are separate and unequal schools within the same building.

Mr. Harries seems to believe that Jamaica High School can improve student achievement if we reorganize into Smaller Learning Communities. Research shows, however, that class size, not school size is a critical factor in student achievement because it is within classes that instruction takes place. Without smaller classes, these learning communities will make little difference.[ii]

Moreover, when Mr. Harries analyzes school demographics and statistics, his comparison lacks validity. Mr. Harries claims: “In 2007-08, the new schools’ incoming 9th grade student population included higher percentages of African-American and Latino students, English Language Learners, and students that performed below grade level standards on 8th grade exams than schools citywide. In addition, new schools enrolled an equal percentage of 9th graders who require special education services as schools citywide.” Mr. Harries compares new schools with overall citywide averages instead of comparing the demographics of a new school with the school it is sharing space with or replacing, which would be a proper assessment.

If we examine the student characteristics of Jamaica’s current pupils and compare them with Queens Collegiate, the numbers are revealing. According to each school’s DOE school web page under “Statistics” on the “Register” page, Jamaica has a student population that is 58% Black and 18% Hispanic while Queens Collegiate has a student body that is 42% Black and 16% Hispanic.

In addition, the “Register” page shows that 14% (214) of Jamaica High School’s students are English Language Learners while Queens Collegiate has only one English Language Learner. Jamaica also has a higher percentage of students who have Individualized Education Programs than Queens Collegiate. Queens Collegiate has no students who are in self-contained special education classes (Most Restrictive Environment); they only educate the more moderately disabled Least Restrictive Environment special education students. However, 5% (81) of Jamaica’s pupils have Individualized Education Programs that call for the Most Restrictive Environment. In fact, we know of one student who was transferred from Queens Collegiate to Jamaica this semester because the new school could not accommodate the pupil who needed a self-contained program. If Jamaica had only one English Language Learner and no self-contained special education students, we could no doubt project that our test results and our graduation rate would rise accordingly.

Furthermore, many of Jamaica’s students are currently being treated unfairly as it is now the middle of December and there are still 14 classes that have no regular teacher. These classes are being covered by Absent Teacher Reserves who are working out of their license area or by teachers filling in for an extra class each day. The administration does not have the money to hire full time teachers to teach these classes. Ten of the classes are in self-contained special education and the others are in math. There is also a bilingual history class for students whose primary language is Spanish that is being taught by a monolingual teacher who speaks no Spanish. Many of our most vulnerable students are being short-changed because our school is not properly funded to be able to employ enough full time teachers to cover the classes we have.

As was stated in our August letter, the State Education Department has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that DOE makes a commitment to reducing class size at Jamaica HS to the levels in its state-mandated proposal to 23 -- as soon as possible. If this is not possible given space constraints, DOE should be required to find another home for the more selective Queens Collegiate. Having a better funded, better equipped small school that has lower class sizes within our building is harmful in many ways to Jamaica’s students. We need to end “Academic Apartheid.”

We would also like to note for the record that we are not criticizing the educators who work at Queens Collegiate or their students. Their teaching, administrative and support staff work in a very professional manner and we respect what they are trying to achieve. All we are asking for is equal treatment for our staff and pupils.

In addition, we are fully cognizant of the reality that New York State and New York City are presently operating under very tight fiscal constraints. Therefore, it would be a very wise financial decision for the DOE to consolidate Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate into one Jamaica High School with one administration. The administrative savings would be substantial and those funds could be used to lower class sizes for all pupils, including those with the greatest needs who are predominantly served at Jamaica. We also strongly believe that using scarce resources for smaller class sizes rather than smaller learning communities would be a more effective investment to improve our students’ opportunities to learn.

As the State Education Commissioner is an official who has the authority to mandate the lower class sizes and equity for all pupils, we are asking for a meeting with you or a State Education Department Representative as soon as possible at Jamaica High School.


UFT Chapter Committee
Jamaica High School

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rikers Island School Principal Removed For Reassignment

East Elmhurst, New York: Dec. 20: Amidst “allegations” Rikers Island principal Frank Dody has been removed from his position as leader of the school for incarcerated adolescents on Rikers Island last Friday evening. The school serves over 1,000 incarcerated males and females waiting trial in the Courts of New York City as well as probation and parole violators between the ages of 16 and 21.

Mr. Dody’s tenure at Rikers was marred by allegations by teachers and other staff of union-busting, supporting discriminatory practices by site supervisors and utilizing the Corrections Department to remove popular teachers.

While Mr. Dody could not be reached for comment he did write to his staff this morning. He wrote, “I received a call at 4 yesterday and I am being reassigned (not sure where) due to allegations. I expect somone [sic] will be placed in my position immediately to continue to provide leadership in the school.”

Former teacher and UFT union leader at Rikers, Jeff Kaufman stated, “It is time for reflection for the staff at Rikers. Mr. Dody will now share in the experience of uncertainty and humiliation that his teachers have experienced when he had them removed from the school. I can only hope that the climate of divisiveness and mistreatment of staff is finally over.”

The school had been criticized by the New York City Council Education Committee for not providing transferable high school credits and providing GED instruction for only a small percentage of the students. For some time testing for the GED was suspended in the school due to allegations of testing improprieties.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


By James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

Word is that UFT-AFT President Randi Weingarten has put her hat into the ring to be considered to be selected to replace Hillary Clinton in the US Senate. Governor David Patterson's father Basil is a longtime UFT client.

The December Delegate Assembly might have been Randi's audition for the Senate as she held a non-stop two hour filibuster where she basically said nothing new. I for one would enthusiastically endorse Randi for Hillary's seat. (I really mean that by the way.) Her name isn't Kennedy or Cuomo but Randi can filibuster with the best of them and politically we could do a lot worse.

There were nine resolutions on the DA agenda and we didn't get to any of them as Randi talked and talked and talked some more and then she brought some other people up to the podium and they talked. Finally, she answered a few questions from the delegates. If you are wondering if anything interesting happened, I can report that we can thank the people of MS 399 for keeping us awake.

A group of students, a chapter leader and another UFT member from MS 399, a school that is closing, were positively moving as they addressed the DA.

They had a demonstration outside their school in the morning and 200 people were there. The students attending the DA chanted a very catchy line:

"Phase out Klein not 399." Other than their presentation, the DA was a huge waste of time. Those people who question my sanity for going to these meetings will once again be calling me crazy.

For the better part of the first hour, Randi gave a long-winded President's Report which was much like last month's President's Report. To sum it up, the sky is falling with the State and City budgets. Schools will be cut and another generation of children will be lost if we don't mobilize.

For those who want the gory details, Randi spoke from the floor as she did a Power Point presentation. The US lost 533,000 jobs and New York State is expected to lose 180,000. New York State is projected to have an unemployment rate over 7% next year. She showed us that 43 states are facing deficits totaling $100 billion. Real GDP will decline for four straight quarters. There are 4 million people unemployed. The projected NYS budget gap is $15.4 billion. Between January 2008 and September 2009, there will be 8-12% cuts to each individual school. Even if we were to cut all of the luxuries like the Aris computer system, we will still face a huge cut.

Randi then told us that the city wants to have a Tier V pension where they roll back all of the gains we have made to make Tier III and IV closer to Tier I and II. She also said the city wants to make us pay for health care premiums like the transit workers agreed to in 2005. She added that there should be a free health plan: HIP. Note to GHI subscribers: she didn't say GHI which is free now also. She also showed us that the state is planning health care premium increases.

Randi then proposed a tripartite solution. First, there is the hope that when Obama is inaugurated there will be a Federal stimulus which could be used for a capital plan to build more schools to lower class sizes. Second, there need to be progressive ways to maximize revenues like a millionaire's tax and finally we must work with the One NY Coalition to mitigate any harm to core services for kids, who don't get a second chance and should not bear the burden of an economic crisis they didn't cause. She then told us that the magnitude of the cuts is chilling and that we would defer spending on the growth of campaign for Fiscal Equity money but there would still be further baseline cuts to education. She then told us that with the automobile bailout having trouble, we are in a Social Darwinist environment but we must maintain members' economic security. She then said that this is our moment in time as these cuts are real and we will need real engagements in every school. Then, like magic a resolution appeared that was crafted in the last twenty-four hours asking for the UFT to mobilize its membership based on the tripartite solution.

At this point the UFT leaders showed that the mother of all financial meltdowns would not trump UFT politics as two amendments from the floor (yes actual delegates finally were able to speak) were raised. One was from the retired Norma Hart (a decent Unity person who is quite friendly) asking that the UFT put in a whereas clause in the resolution saying that pension and healthcare settlements are earned compensation. This carried. However, when Jonathan Leshick, who is not a Unity member, introduced an amendment calling for us to work with Parents' Associations and students on actions that included but were not limited to teach-ins, petitions and citywide demonstrations, the Unity crowd in unison with some direction from the leadership said no. Unity wants the mobilization to be broad and not specific. Never let an economic crisis stop a Unity crowd from putting down an opposition motion. No surprise that the amendment failed and the original resolution easily passed.

Unfortunately, the cynic in me now expects the same old mobilization that will include letters, postcards, faxes, lobbying in Albany, radio, television and print ads and maybe even informational picketing and a rally.

Perhaps there will be some buttons and a wear red on Wednesday campaign. It's hard to take UFT leadership seriously as they panic about the biggest crisis ever as we heard the same speech when we were battling Mayor Giuliani and then we heard it when we were up against Bloomberg and we've heard it over and over in our disputes with Joel Klein. Now I think I know why Randi doesn't want anything videotaped. One could play one of her calls to arms from ten years ago and just change a few lines for the crisis de jour and presto you have the standard Randi "Here comes the end of the world" speech. I don't mean to downplay the recession which is real and will affect us, but the UFT response is as trite as can be.

I have said many times in the past that I hope the UFT will really mobilize to lead a true labor struggle against cuts to working people and kids.

However, after 2005 when Jeff Kaufman and I pleaded with Randi not to accept the fact finding report and then the horrific giveback laden Contract, and we were rebuffed, I can't have much faith in the UFT leadership's ability to lead any labor struggle. Nevertheless, I will more than likely actively support UFT actions and the campaign to spare the schools from devastating budget cuts.

After the mobilization resolution passed, Randi gave a report on the fellows who were threatened with termination. Randi said in prior meetings that they were protected by a Contractual no layoff agreement. That line seems to have disappeared from her rhetoric and now it seems she is lowering expectations for the courts, arbitration and the Public Employees Relations Board to keep the 70 teaching fellows that haven't been able to find a job from being terminated until the end of the semester.

Randi also told us about the home day care workers being owed money and how we are fighting ACS. She said UFT Chapters have a right to consultation on school budgets under Article 8C of the Contract and she said that negotiations are moving at Merrick Academy and the Art Institute. New Elementary School Vice President Karen Alford gave a report on the gifted program and Leroy Barr told us the next DA won't be until January 28. (That's right in the middle of Regents week.) Finally, most of the hall emptied out for the question period which came around 6:15 p.m. Randi said in answer to a question from Greg Lundhl that she didn't think we could be relegated to doing Jury Duty exclusively in the summer as the city wants. She also said on several occasions that the DOE shouldn't close any schools this year (silly me, I thought that was the UFT's position every year). No new motion period and no regularly scheduled resolutions.

Finally, since the resolution on confidentiality of union meetings was never voted on by the DA but it cleared the Executive Board, I do not know if this DA report is authorized. Resolutions that pass the Executive Board but aren't yet acted upon by the DA become policy until the DA acts. The resolution says that we need permission from members to transmit or reproduce words and images from Union meetings. If this report violates that resolution, I hope people will help start the James Eterno Defense Fund so I can continue to boldly write about DA meetings. Otherwise, all we'll be left with is the NY Teacher.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Judge Issues Written Opinion About Religious Days Off: Finds "Religious Test" Inappropriate

You may recall the "Holy Thursday" ambush last March in which the DOE reinterpreted Chancellor's Regulation C-606 to permit principals to apply a "religious test" to determine whether teachers could take, as a non-attendance day, time for religious observance. The reinterpretation of the Chancellor's Regulation was contained in a Principals' Weekly. The UFT filed a grievance with the DOE and, at the same time went to Court with a request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the DOE from taking disciplinary action against any teacher who requested the day and granting the request so long as the needs of the school could be met.

A temporary restraining order was orally issued and the UFT reported the "victory."

It has only taken 9 months but the Judge just published her opinion. While her opinion reiterates her oral opinion and continues the stay until the matter can be resolved in arbitration the decision raises some interesting aspects of C-606 and days off for religious observation in general. Justice Edmead expressed her concern that despite her initial restraining order the Board was not in compliance. She wrote,

after the commencement of this petition, six teachers at P.S. 2 in Elmhurst, Queens, who were initially granted leave to observe Holy Thursday, were later denied leave after circulation of the 2008 Principals' Weekly Statement. The principal commented that no one was being allowed Holy Thursday as either a personal or religious day. The six teachers reported to work in fear of retaliation from the principal if they failed to appear. At I.S. 92 in St. Albans, three (of 49) teachers who had requested religious observance leave for Holy Thursday were called in by the principal, and asked questions pertaining to the purpose of the holiday, how participants observe it, and what the religious services entail. At P.S. 71 in Ridgewood, the principal originally denied requests for religious observance leave, but, after meeting with UFT representatives, granted some teachers such leave, and permitted others to use their personal days. The principal stated that she would not discipline teachers for taking the agreed-to leave unless directed to do so by the BOE. Yet, upon returning to school, nine teachers who had taken personal days were informed that they would be docked pay for taking leave and that the leave would be recorded as an unauthorized absence. The plight of these nine teachers is troubling because it violates both this Court's March 19,2008 Order and the agreement reached by the parties with the help of the First Department Court Attorney that "no adverse action will be taken with respect to absence on Holy Thursday pending resolution of' the motion to vacate the stay."

The DOE calendar is not consistent. Certain religious holidays are covered by recess days in some years and not covered in others. By allowing teachers (and other employees) the right to take days off for religious reasons the DOE is merely attempting to follow state and federal anti-discrimination laws…they are not providing us with a gift.

While the ultimate decision on whether the statement in the Principals' Weekly adequately amended the Chancellor's Regulations to provide a "religious test" to take a day off for religious observance will have to wait until the arbitrator rules. What is clear is that as our teaching staff becomes more religiously diverse we should see this issue continue to create controversy in our schools.

Weingarten v. Board of Education, New York Supreme Court, Edmead, J., December 15, 2008, Index No. 104080/2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008



There is a lot of confusion about just how teachers obtain job protection rights. In order to understand the strange world of teacher qualification it is first necessary to understand a few terms.


Certification: Issued by the State Education Department after a teacher candidate shows minimum qualifications to teach. These include written tests (ATS-W) performance tests (ATS-P) and adequate college credits. Certification varies depending upon academic area and grade level. Some certifications are for wide ranges of grades (K-12) or for smaller ranges of grades (7-12). Certification has no direct relationship with probation or tenure except that failure to obtain the requisite certification will result in the loss of tenure or license.


License: A uniquely New York City requirement that often times does not mesh neatly with certification. Licensing may be for different subjects and often times are for different grades that certification. Licensing used to have qualifying criteria (oral exam) but now the only requirement is the payment of a fee.


Probation: That period prior to tenure (usually 3 years) where the Board can dismiss you without a due process hearing. Teachers on probation have limited rights, however, that protects them against dismissal for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons. Additionally terminated probations are entitled to Board of Education hearings although the "hearing" is done by a representative of the Board and teachers rarely win. Note: probation terminations must be challenged in Court within 4 months of the notice. This is usually well before the termination of probation hearing is held. If you wait until after the termination of probation hearing you will probably be only able to challenge the results of the hearing in Court. The Court will be unable to reinstate you to your teaching position.


Tenure: Obtained after 3 years (or less with Jarema credit) of appointment, under a license. Tenure entitles a teacher to be given a due process hearing before any serious disciplinary action can be taken. Under our contract we are entitled to the hearing before a single arbitrator selected by the DOE and the UFT to hear these cases. Cases can only be appealed under very narrow circumstances.


Appointment: Certified teachers, when granted a license, and assigned to a particular job (actually from a list in which a random list number is generated…yes this number may be important in excessing or layoff to determine seniority if two teachers were hired the same day). Appointment starts the tenure clock running unless Jarema credit (credit for non-appointed teacher time) is given. After three years of appointment the teacher becomes eligible for tenure. Any change in license, including junior high to senior high licensing) will start the clock over.


Jarema Credit. This is a way that appointed teachers who worked satisfactorily as regular substitutes in the same license and at the same school level can reduce the normal three-year probationary period by up to two years. To obtain one term of credit, you must have worked as a sub for a minimum of 80 days within a period of 90 consecutive school days in the same school. For a credit of one year, you must have worked at least 160 days in a one-year period.


Traveling Tenure: Each time you change your license and are reappointed, you must serve a new three-year probationary period. But if you received tenure in one license area and elect to take an appointment in a new license area, or if you were tenured in another school district in New York State, you can apply to have your probationary period reduced to two years.


Some important points: Excessing ( or losing your appointment due to school closing, downsizing, or other factor will not cause resetting of tenure for probationers or tenured teachers unless the teacher is appointed in a different license. Similarly voluntary changes of appointments to different licenses will result in a new period of probation.