April 30, 2009

Rubber rooms, in the eyes of the TAG beholders

The Teacher Advocacy Group NYC has put together a flyer about the rubber rooms.

I'm posting it here because you're not going to find it either on the UFT website or Edwize, which claims to be a union blog but is really just a Unity blog.

Quoting from TAG's email:
The Temporary Reassignment Centers have been relegated to the back of the bus in the struggle to preserve public education and the careers of the NYC public school teacher. But we are critical to the plan to dismantle and discredit public education. The TRCs are in the front line "representing" as we do the repository of arbitrary power of principals as memorialized in the 2005 UFT contract; "representing" as we do tangible evidence of the incompetence and moral turpitude of the NYC teacher;"representing" as we do the best PR tool Bloomberg-Klein have to overthrow tenure' 'representing' as we do the face of a union too cowardly to defend its members while they are in the school; representing as we do the means by which Bloomberg-Klein chill all opposition within the schools- chapter chair leaders included. And lastly, providing the back door to the creation of more ATRs — and we know what is going to happen to the ATRs.

Here's the text of the flyer they're getting out to press and public. Kudos to whoever put this together, because they're doing what union management is not doing: defining the stinking mess and getting the word out.


What is the ‘rubber room’?

Approximately 800 Department of Education teachers are warehoused in Temporary Reassignment Centers, known as rubber rooms. The DOE considers these individuals too dangerous to be around children, yet most will return to schools after languishing for months or years in off-campus sites.

Teachers receive full pay while waiting for the resolution of their cases. The financial costs are estimated as high as $65 million dollars; the human costs are seldom considered.

Reassignment Centers are called rubber rooms because doing nothing is maddening. Outwardly, teachers play cards, watch DVDs, knit, read books, and sleep. Inwardly, teachers lament the loss of successful careers and worry about uncertain futures. Feelings of fear, doubt and shame never subside.

Why are teachers removed?

Allegations of sexual misconduct, corporal punishment and other misconduct are so disturbing that the DOE banishes teachers to rubber rooms on just the word of a principal, teacher or student.

Certainly some teachers should not be in classrooms, but many charges against teachers are exaggerated or simply not true. For example, reporting unsafe conditions is insubordination; failing to immediately admit a late student to class is corporal punishment.

Principals frequently use false charges to retaliate against whistleblowers and to remove competent teachers who question the policies of the administration.

Reassigned teachers may also be charged with incompetence or be accused of crimes by outside agencies.

Incompetent teachers should be terminated, but many principals and assistant principals are not qualified to judge competence. Principals and assistant principals are required to have only three years of teaching experience. Possession of an administrative license does not guarantee knowledge of pedagogy.

The decision to remove a teacher is often based on personalities; a teacher who caters to the whims of the administration is rarely reassigned and never accused of incompetence.

Why do disciplinary proceedings take so long?

Education Law states that disciplinary proceedings against charged teachers must be completed within five months. The DOE and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) modified the proceedings. These modifications do not provide teachers with increased protection; instead they infringe on the rights of teachers and lengthen the process.

The DOE and the UFT agreed that teachers can be removed before charges are preferred. Teachers are supposed to be charged within 6 months of their removal, yet some teachers remain in the rubber room for years without charges.

The DOE and the UFT also denied teachers the right to choose arbitrators. A fixed number of arbitrators are assigned on a rotating basis, supposedly to accelerate the disciplinary proceedings. However, more arbitrators are needed, timeframes are ignored, and cases can last for years.

The accused teachers are not responsible for the delays and they can expedite cases only by admitting guilt and settling.

Teachers who are charged with crimes by an outside agency face similar obstacles. Prosecuting attorneys continually ask for postponements, claim they are ready to proceed, and then ask for additional postponements. The teachers are again powerless to hasten the process except by admitting guilt.

Is justice served?

Arbitrators are paid approximately $1,700 per day and must be approved by both the DOE and the UFT. Arbitrators have a huge incentive to please both sides.

The UFT is happy if teachers do not lose their jobs; the DOE is happy if the arbitrator renders any finding of guilt. Teachers are rarely terminated or exonerated. The decision of an arbitrator is very predictable: a finding against the teacher, a fine, and reassignment as an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).

Teachers who become ATRs are substitute teachers permanently assigned to schools. They do not have programs and have little hope of returning to the classroom in a meaningful capacity. There are approximately 1,400 ATRs in the DOE. Most ATRs are tenured teachers with excellent records who lost jobs after schools were closed

Why does the process continue?

Principals who abuse the disciplinary process are not punished and they achieve their desired results: a troublesome teacher is removed and the remaining teachers are intimidated.

The DOE hopes that public opinion inflamed by the newspapers will result in the termination of ATRs. Mostly tenured teachers will be dismissed, and teachers without tenure are cheaper and easier to control.

The UFT is reluctant to protest the abuse of the disciplinary process. The UFT receives dues from over 2,000 ATRs and rubber room teachers, approximately $2.4 million annually. Positions for these teachers have been given to new hires and changing the system will cost the UFT money.

Teachers and students are hurt by the system, but neither group has a voice.

Parents and the public are kept in the dark and trust that policymakers will make the right decisions. So far they have not.

Here's a UFT link on rubber rooms posted last July, but be prepared. It's as rosy and upbeat as it is ludicrous, and if you need proof, try this sentence in the first paragraph:
In an important victory for members languishing unfairly in Department of Education temporary reassignment centers, the UFT and DOE have reached an agreement that will erase the backlog of teachers sent to a “rubber room” for alleged misconduct.
I especially choked on the words "victory" and "erase the backlog."

Here's an assignment for TAG, or for whoever knows anything about the rubber rooms: Is there anything in that post that's really doing some good for teachers assigned? Or is the whole thing one great big ill-conceived, poorly negotiated, and horrifically monitored screwup.


  1. UFT victories are remarkable. The last big victory they crowed about was the 40% reduction in teachers' choice. My favorite was the "class size victory" they plastered on the front of NY Teacher. If you bothered to read the article, you saw there were no consequences if the city failed to actually manage any reduction, and of course it did not.

  2. The UFT are the Detroit Lions of "victories".


  4. There is, as Chaz noted, no disadvantage for a building principal to bring these false charges. There is further no consequence for a principal's later "deliberate misrepresentations of material facts under oath (aka perjury)" during a hearing because there are no UFT (NYSUT)investigators to follow up. On both of these fronts principals can, without consequence, engage in serious misconduct.
    I suggest, as others have, that UFT hire a few ex-detectives (at 100K each) of their own to follow up on the most egregious principals and the most egregious perjury. After a few principals are caught, the others will learn their lesson

  5. Great idea, L.I. Educator, but then there's the depth of the UFT's collaboration. Politically they have made the decision to show the union is active in pruning the "bad" stock. They're letting this rubber room situation run its course, and the good teachers — heck, even the average teachers — getting caught up in this mess are just collateral.

    To remember:
    Except for a few real crimes, the criteria for being sent to a rubber room are neither written in stone or in law. There are way more of the exact same kinds of teachers — the good, average, and less talented ones — committing the same kinds of things and much worse ones in all NYC classrooms. It often just depends on the personality or goals of the administrator/s who send them over to the RR.

    UFT management's persistent willingness to go along with this immoral system is proof-positive that they are collaborating.

  6. In order to get me out of the building, my principal fabricated a non-existent allegation.

  7. This article and comments should be sent to every newspaper and T.V. news in the City. These are excellent points! How is it that these newspapers don't know about this. We need to send these ICE articles to newspapers and NEWYORK 1. Only we can fight for our own protection. Randi and the UFT are too busy making money and deals off our backs.