I can't believe that Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the press are using the case of Eric Chasanoff to try to make the case that the Chancellor, not independent arbitrators, should have the final say in who gets fired. Chaz, as he is known, has defended himself very eloquently on his blog. As his chapter leader for many years, including when he was removed from Jamaica, I feel I must add a few points on this matter to show just how ridiculous the Chancellor and the press are in trying to make Chaz the poster child for abusive teachers who get away with everything. The press and chancellor are guilty of what R.E.M. called "Exhuming McCarthy."
For those who do not know the story, Chaz was removed from Jamaica High School for making an awkward remark to a student and touching her on the shoulder to calm her down. The DOE tried to turn it into a sexual case so they could suspend Eric without pay after a probable cause hearing where the standard of proof is very low for the DOE. In a probable cause hearing, a Special Commissioner of Investigations report is usually sufficient evidence to suspend someone but Chaz won his hearing.
The press quotes the Special Commissioner of Investigations report in this case as if it were the gospel but in the probable cause hearing the arbitrator found that the report was flawed as the investigator was not credible and Eric was not taken off payroll. Chaz is one of the few people to win one of these hearings. There was no reason for the DOE to continue at that point but they moved forward and filed 3020A charges to try to dismiss him. In the 3020A case, once again a different arbitrator found the SCI report flawed. Eric was fined a minimal amount for making an awkward statement to a student, which he admitted was not the wisest thing to say. Now here comes the press to dredge up the case and try to make Eric into a monster. The record should reflect some more facts that I haven't seen anywhere else.
Eric is a very popular teacher as students would practically beg guidance counselors to be able to get into one of his earth science classes. The Daily News and NY Times never interviewed my outspoken colleague Marc Epstein or myself or they may have discovered this information. They may also have found out that earth science grades took a nosedive after Chaz was removed from Jamaica. He is thought of as a very good teacher. Another teacher and I both testified to this fact at his 3020A hearing.
I also haven't seen this anywhere in the press or on Chaz's blog but it has to be noted somewhere that when the principal called Eric and me down to his office to talk about the incident that led to the 3020a case, he said specifically that this was not sexual.
Speaking of the principal, he did not see eye to eye with Eric This particular principal and I generally worked out issues however when it came to the Office of Special Investigations or the Commissioner of Special Investigations, he had a very quick trigger finger and would often call in a report on incidents that were purely trivial. We used to argue about this all the time. We often would joke that the principal had OSI on speed dial and he actually had an assistant principal who had as one of his duties that he was in charge of the many OSI investigations that were kicked back to the school.
In terms of Chaz, I believe the principal was not happy because a few years earlier he called in a rather insignificant incident against Eric to OSI and it was founded but the only punishment was for Eric to receive a letter in his file. However, Eric grieved it (those were the days when we could grieve letters that were unfair or inaccurate) and Chaz won at arbitration. The arbitrator saw that the letter was erroneous and removed it. I remember the principal being a little perturbed when the DOE lost the arbitration.
Subsequently, he seemed to be looking for anything against Eric. This situation worsened after the DOE was dragged to the Public Employees Relations Board by the UFT over Chaz. The Principal also had to deal with the fact that Eric was elected multiple times to be a representative for the teachers on the School Leadership Team. Does the press think we were all that stupid to vote him in? After the incident that led to the unfounded probable cause hearing, the school had the SCI investigator come back over and over again to talk to kids and seek evidence which he really never found. This is why his report was easily picked apart by Eric's representatives.
In the end we have three separate independent arbitrators assigned to hear the two cases involving Chaz and all three figured out that there was basically nothing going on with him. Are they all in the pocket of the UFT? I don't think so as they are selected by and paid for equally by UFT and DOE and either side can throw an arbitrator off the panel at the end of the year. The reality is the principal had a quick trigger finger when it came to calling the Office of Special Investigations and the Commissioner of Special Investigations on all employees and not just Eric. The arbitrators knew there was not much there as would any decent reporter if they bothered to do their job and investigate multiple sources and not rely on a flawed SCI report.
I don't think the Daily News will be reading this piece to try to get another take on this story but when the DOE keeps losing over and over again with independent arbitrators that they agreed to, concerning the same teacher, maybe they should admit there is nothing wrong with the process but something wrong with DOE officials and SCI investigators going on fishing expeditions to try to fire people who have done nothing to warrant their dismissal. The arbitration process needs to be strengthened, not weakened, so we can grieve file letters again. Due process worked for Chaz. Thankfully, we still have a semblance of it. Taking him through the mud again reminds me of the McCarthy hearings. To Walcott, the NY Times and the Daily News I paraphrase from that time: Haven't you done enough to try to assassinate this man's character? Have you no sense of decency?