I had all intention of writing about something else until I read the great blog by NYC Educator today. Here is Gotham Schools and Ms. Campbell Brown who feel that everyone should have the right to due process except us teachers. Listen, we live in a democracy and no system is perfect. What was it that Mr. Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Many believe there was a miscarriage of justice done in Florida, but no one is talking about ending all jury trials in cases that will be similar to that of Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin. It does not mean that because a jury may have made a wrong decision, we should do away with jury trials for all such cases. For someone to accept a judge’s decision in a bench trial, one must have complete faith in the honesty and integrity of such a judge. Unfortunately, our Department of Education reflected in the personage of Chancellor Dennis Walcott does not even come close to Solomon’s standard. Here is Bloomberg’s lackey—a man who has a symbiotic connection to our little corrupt dictator.
The Department of Education is made up of approximately 80,000 teachers and less than 200 cases have gone to a 3020a hearings about sexual misconduct. Of those who were found innocent, I am sure a few guilty ones may unfortunately have gotten away. That happens in our system and it is shameful. But it is no reason to completely end our right of due process because not only do teacher’s abuse children, but children abuse teacher and make false accusations. Just remember the famous play by Lillian Hellman—“The Children’s Hour” about the professional and emotional toll a teacher can go through when a child makes a false accusation. I have personal knowledge of two cases where teachers were falsely accused and were clearly innocent.
The first case involved a teacher in a Queens’s high school eight years ago. My son was a freshman in that high school and ended up in an English class taught by one of the best instructors he ever had. He was a first year teacher and to my amazement helped my son understand Shakespeare. No, he was not a TFA five week wonder but someone who came out a traditional teacher education program. I met him in November at the school’s first parent-teacher conference of the year. I was impressed by the hard work and dedication of this young teacher. A lot of planning went into his lessons that not only taught my son how to comprehend Shakespeare, but also, at the same time, taught him to understand many different types of literary elements. Unfortunately, about a week after the conference, my son told me that his favorite teacher was removed because he was accused by two students in his class (who were, by the way, failing) of exposing himself in a Mercedes that was parked near a bus stop by the school.
Anyone hearing this story would have the same reaction—the teacher must be fired. However, there was more to the story. When he was removed and assigned to a rubber room in another borough pending final disposition of the case (by the way, this untenured teacher could easily be fired even without cause), the pervert struck again at the same bus stop. This time, the pervert was caught and arrested. Now, one would think that this teacher would easily be cleared and returned to the school. By the way, this young teacher could not even afford a jalopy on his meager first year salary, yet alone a Mercedes Benz! Instead, he ended up in purgatory for the rest of the year. First, the DOE wanted him to resign because, even though he was clearly innocent, he was now “tainted.” In the DOE’s view, he would always now be viewed with suspicion even though the real perpetrator was caught. They could not fire someone who was innocent, so they put pressure on him to accept another assignment far away from his present school’s venue. It ended up that this teacher had to hire a personal lawyer to fight for his right to return to his school. Let me just say that after about a year, he was returned to the high school with a little settlement that reached into the six figures for pain and suffering.
The next case involved a school psychologist who was evaluating students in a New York State approved nonpublic school for emotionally disturbed students. In NYC, many school psychologists are assigned cases in nonpublic schools that receive funding by the state. He gave a psychological assessment which would be used to determine the educational needs of this student. This teenager, after the assessment, accused the psychologist of talking dirty to her. He ended up in the rubber room and could not even understand why this young woman would even make this accusation. But he was guilty until proven innocent. It did not matter that this teenager had a police record a mile long, was sexually acting out, and, by the way, had an out-of-wedlock baby at 15 years old with an unknown father. Nope, the word of this highly volatile emotionally disturbed student held more weight than this psychologist who had a perfect record for over 25 years. It went to a 3020a hearing. The DOE wanted the psychologist fired, but obviously, a fair arbitrator cleared him because it was obvious that the student was not credible. Yet again, the DOE viewed him as tainted and he was never assigned to a permanent position within the school system. He eventually retired bitter and angry. Wouldn’t anyone?
If Campbell Brown had her way, she would give Walcott the power to fire immediately these two educators. They would have never had the chance to clear their names. DOE has a simple philosophy—accusation equals guilt. And even if one is found innocent, one remains tainted with a Scarlett letter forever. Yes, arbitrators do make mistakes, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Recently, I know of a case where a principal created a trumped up case against a teacher. The teacher was even arrested, but cleared by the police because the witnesses to this supposed incident all had different stories. Even though, there was a 3020a hearing and the teacher was fired because the arbitrator said he showed no remorse (against a crime he did not even commit). What is the alternative? Well, according to Mr. Brown even a single arbitration mistake warrants the doing away with the present system. We have to trust the wisdom of our leaders to do the right thing to protect us. I think Mr. Brown and Gotham schools need to reread the constitution and the Federalist Papers to see how much our founding fathers believed in trusting the wisdom of any single individual—they didn’t! Yes, we have to live with the Trayvon Marin verdict and that one teacher who may have gotten away in our imperfect system of justice. But, to paraphrase Mr. Churchill, the alternative is far worse. Ms. Brown, we are not trying to protect possible child molesters, we just want to be treated like anyone else in society—no more and no less!
You can read my blog The Public Educator to find other articles advocating for the preservation of public education and to fight against the forces of privatization.