Tag Archives: Christine Rubino

What if They Were Teachers?

Bad teacher Cameron Diaz  wonders what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

Bad teacher Cameron Diaz wonders what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot.

South Bronx School asks a good question: what if this was a teacher?

The Crack Team has learned that Jessica Cruz, AP at PS 154 in the Bronx… has a special
talent. She is a professional belly dancer.

And Jessica Cruz has a website dedicated to her belly dancing. On her website, one can find the following Youtube video featuring still photos of her in action:

This reminds me of the story I wrote some time ago of pictures that surfaced of Sharron Smalls, the principal of Jane Addams High School, in which she can be seen hugging a male stripper who was pouring what appeared to be ketchup on the both of them,

I will say now about Jessica Cruz the belly dancer the same thing I said about Sharron Smalls: I do not see anything wrong with these photos. Not to be snide, but I do not even see what is wrong with the following photo of Cruz that greets the visitor of her belly dancing site.

cruz8

Granted, these photos of Jessica Cruz are a different breed from the Sharron Smalls photo. In my mind, Jessica Cruz’s photos are more tasteful. I do not say this just because I am a guy and Jessica Cruz is an attractive woman. I say this because Jessica Cruz has a legitimate talent, of which she is obviously proud, and the revealing outfits are part of that talent. Sharron Smalls, on the other hand, was being doused in ketchup by a stripper.

Regardless, I do not see anything wrong with either of their photos. They are adults and are entitled to a life outside of the Department of Education. This is not about trying to smear Jessica Cruz as something she is not. This is about raising a legitimate question: What if she was a teacher?

South Bronx School cites instances in which teachers have lost their jobs for much less than this:

She has the same right to do this as did a teacher on Long Island that took his shirt off on a reality show. The same right as a teacher in Florida that was forced to resign and had posed in bikinis. Or thatguidance counselor in who posed in lingerie years before she was with the DOE and got terminated.  Or that teacher who was forced to resign because a parent found a photo of her holding a beer and a glass of wine on her Facebook page. We here at SBSB support BFF AP Jessica Cruz and her First Amendment rights.

What is particularly interesting in the above quote is the case of Tiffany Webb, the guidance counselor who was fired by the Department of Education for photos of her on the internet from her days as a lingerie model, before she was employed by the DOE.  She rendered 12 years of service to the system until these photos were discovered that magically made her unfit to counsel children all of the sudden.

Jessica Cruz is an administrator of the DOE now, as well as a belly dancer. Do you think Richard Condon’s office, the one that thrives off of destroying the lives of teachers for the pettiest of reasons, will take any action at all against Jessica Cruz?

I would not hold my breath.

Again, for the third time, this is not to say that I believe the DOE should take any action against her. They should not have taken any action at all against Tiffany Webb either.

But what does it say about the DOE that they would fire a veteran guidance counselor of teenagers for something she did in the past but do absolutely nothing about an assistant principal of little children for something that she is doing now?

What does it say about the DOE that they would hire a confirmed misogynist and bully to be the principal of Flushing High School?  This is from Chaz’s blog:

Now we find that the Chancellor has hired a man, James Brown that was sued for sexual harassment, bullying.  racist comments and retaliation against a female dean at a Baldwin middle school who won the lawsuit against him.  Notice, this was not just an accusation but a lawsuit where the preponderance of evidence presented showed that Mr. Brown was found guilty of such behavior.  The story can be found here.

While a case can be made for Sharron Smalls and Jessica Cruz, there is absolutely no defense of James Brown, nor is there a defense of the DOE’s hiring of him to lead an entire school building, let alone a classroom.

The DOE hired Brown because he is a known bully. In this day and age when every twenty-something with three years of teaching experience has an administrator’s license, it is not like there is a shortage of principals in the job market. That means the DOE likes what James Brown brings to the table. It can be the only explanation for such a move.

As a system, the Department of Education is a giant bully. They will send investigators to the house of Christine Rubino to rummage through her garbage for a post she made on Facebook that was read by no kids or parents, but they will hire a man who was found to have sexually harassed teachers in a court of law.

It is obvious that the schoolmarmish discipline code the DOE rigorously enforces applies to teachers and teachers only. If Jessica Cruz was a teacher or a guidance counselor, they would send goons to harass her at her house and tell the New York Post to write a scathing article about the derelicts who infest the classrooms to which we send our children. People would be horrified and the hypocrite lynch mob would be out in force screaming in the comments section about these people who are “unfit to teach” and “should not be allowed around kids”.

But Jessica Cruz is not a teacher, so she can gyrate and show as much cleavage as she wants on the internet. Sharron Smalls is not a teacher, so she can hug as many scantily clad strippers who pour on her whatever condiment her heart desires all she wants. James Brown is not a teacher, so he can sexually harass as many women as he damn well pleases.

Might I remind you that Francesco Portelos, a teacher, is currently fighting for his career at a termination hearing for the following reprehensible and unforgivable offenses that obviously make him a liability around children:

1. January 30, 2012- Principal Hill called and stated that Mr. Portelos hacked, www.dreyfus49.com, and took her administrative privileges away.

2. January 30, 2012- Principal Hill received an anonymous call that Mr. Portelos used an iTunes program called Fake a Message to email a student and make it appear that it was sent by the Principal.

4. February 22, 2012- Principal Hill alleges that Mr. Portelos requested that a paraprofessional work with him and other teachers on a Learning Technology Grant (LTG) after school to help his students. Principal Hill declined and Mr. Portelos apparently had him work anyway and submit time sheets.

This is just a fraction of the over 30 charges Portelos is facing for things he did not even do. They all are in the same ballpark of ridiculousness as the ones cited above.

Perhaps if he was gyrating suggestively, hugging strippers, harassing women or gyrating suggestively while hugging strippers and harassing women, they would have promoted him to principal.

Christine Rubino’s Spring Break

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During this past school years’ Spring Break, I attended the latest act in the ever-unfolding drama of the NYC Department of Education versus Christine Rubino.

Christine was terminated in 2011 after some comments she posted on her personal Facebook page. The DOE’s arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, believed that this one incident made Christine unfit to teach forever, despite 15 years of spotless service. Facing financial and professional ruin, Christine hired the Teacher’s Lawyer, Bryan Glass, to appeal Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. Justice Barbara Jaffe found that Lowitt’s decision was “shocking to the conscience” of the court and mandated that Lowitt come up with a less harsh penalty.

Meanwhile, the DOE appealed Jaffe’s decision to the New York State Appellate Division. While the case was working its way up the calendar, Lowitt handed down her new decision: 2 years suspension without pay. This decision kept Christine in poverty just long enough so that she had to sell the house in which she was raising her two young children. I suppose it makes sense in some twisted universe somewhere for Lowitt to traumatize two young children for the sake of protecting countless other children from Facebook statuses they will never see.

Right after Lowitt’s new decision was handed down, the DOE’s appeal was ready to be heard by the Appellate Division. As opposed to the State Supreme Court, whose cases are heard by one presiding judge, the Appellate Division has a panel of 5 justices. I arrived relatively early and was able to listen in on some of the other cases being heard. The justices on the panel seemed fair. They were patient with people who did not have lawyers and asked pointed questions that showed they had not only listened to the arguments, but read the background of each case. How would they receive the Christine Rubino case? Christine’s future literally hung in the balance.

Christine’s case was called. Bryan Glass headed to the podium as did the DOE’s lawyer, Deborah A. Brenner. The litigants at the Appellate Division have only a few minutes to make their cases before the justices start asking their questions. Brenner started the case by painting Christine Rubino in the worst possible light. Not only had Christine said something bad on Facebook, she lied about it, tried to have her friend lie about it and did not show any remorse for her actions. Brenner basically summarized Lowitt’s original decision and justification for terminating her.

Bryan Glass pointed out that Christine did show remorse. After all, she had taken down the comments three days after she posted them, well before she knew of any investigation against her. He also called into question the idea that Christine tried to cover up the matter. As I have written here before, the DOE investigators pretty much browbeat Christine’s friend in the back of a DOE car (yes, they have those) until she said what they wanted her to say. The browbeating included threats of going to jail on Riker’s Island for lying to investigators, a bluff on their part since one cannot be prosecuted for such an act. Despite the fact that Christine’s friend had this horrifying experience on tape, Lowitt did not at all consider it when making her decision.

Once Glass had ended his presentation, it was time for the jutices to ask questions. The first few questions sought to clarify the timeline of events, like when the comments were made, when she was terminated, etc. It is difficult for me to remember all of the details now almost 6 months after the case. However, one justice in particular deserves to be singled out for a job well done.

Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels saw through Deborah Brenner’s disingenuous arguments. Throughout the previous cases I watched, Justice Manzanet-Daniels seemed to always sympathize with the underdog. She asked Brenner questions along the lines of, “why is termination the only penalty you’re willing to hand down?” Brenner stammered and reiterated the line of logic laid out by Randi Lowitt. Then Justice Manzanet-Daniels picked up on the matter of the supposed cover-up by Christine. She questioned why Randi Lowitt had not mentioned the audio tape of DOE investigators shaking down Christine’s friend in her decision and said that she would like to hear the tape. Brenner responded that the facts of the case are not before the court, just the arbitrator’s decision. Essentially, Brenner was instructing the justice on a point of law and procedure.

At that point, Justice Manzanet-Daniels became visibly ticked off. I am no litigator but I do know that it is not a good idea to try to instruct a judge on what should go on in their own courtroom, no matter how wrong one thinks the judge might be. Justice Manzanet-Daniels promptly closed the giant binder in front of her that contained all of the paperwork of the case and said something along the lines of “you’re right, it doesn’t matter”. She had probably made her decision right then and there. All of the justices had obviously seen the DOE’s case for the sham that it was, but Justice Manzanet-Daniels saw right to the marrow of things. What was revealed on the tape, as well as how the tape was not even part of Lowitt’s decision, was the Rosetta Stone of the entire DOE v. Christine Rubino fiasco, and Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels knew it.

Deborah Brenner was beaten from pillar to post by the Appellate Division. All of the justices, in one way or another, questioned the DOE’s rabid opposition to allowing Christine Rubino back in the classroom. All of them seemed to know that this case was about more than just a Facebook post. Yet, Christine Rubino herself was not so sure. After years of being vilified by the DOE and the media, she was not going to bank on anyone helping her get justice. It would be a long few weeks before the court’s decision was known.

When the decision finally did come down, it was not reported on by any of the outlets that had vilified Christine Rubino. Why would they report it? The New York State Appellate Division ruling 5-0 in favor of a teacher who had been wrongly terminated is not in step with the teacher-hating narrative they are trying to spin. That means that 6 judges in total heard the case of the DOE v. Christine Rubino, including Barbara Jaffe, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels and the rest of the Justices in the Appellate Division, and every single one of them sided with Christine. The only people who wanted to see Christine terminated were Randi Lowitt (who receives a DOE paycheck) and the New York print media (who will print any story that maintains their coveted access to Tweed and City Hall). People who have delved into the facts of this case objectively all come out on Christine’s side.

Despite the decisions by the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division, it is hard to say that justice was served. Most people in Christine’s situation would not have fought as hard as she did. They would have licked their wounds and moved on to try to make their way in another profession. Nobody would blame them for doing such a thing either. It becomes almost impossible to believe in yourself when the DOE, the media and the general public are all saying how horrible you are. Because of the efforts of these forces, Christine and her children had to live in poverty for two years. They had their lives uprooted. Christine now has to rebuild her public image. If not for an inextinguishable fighting spirit, Christine Rubino would have gone the way of countless other unfairly persecuted teachers.

This school year marks her return to the DOE not as a teacher but as an ATR. While she has won the first major battle in this war by getting back on the payroll, there is still a long fight ahead. Not only does she, like every other ATR, have to fight to get back into the classroom but she is probably due some major monetary justice due to everything through which she has been put. Whether or not Christine wants to fight these battles is totally up to her. Nobody would blame her if she stopped now.

In a particularly comical turn of events, the DOE is currently appealing the decision of the Appellate Division. However, they have to appeal it to the branch of the court system that handles appeals, which is the Appellate Division. The DOE is appealing the ruling of the Appellate Division to the Appellate Division. They would be wise to send a lawyer who is not going to lecture the justices about procedure. Then again, the DOE has never been known for their wisdom.

The DOE is afraid of defeat. They fear that they would not have the luxury to fire teachers for similar infractions in the future if Christine Rubino is able to ultimately win. If they could fire teachers for Facebook posts, what is to stop them for firing a teacher for a comment they make on a blog or something they say at the supermarket? Christine’s victory has limited their latitude as employers who like to fire people. Apparently, they have no problem with throwing more money into their obsessive quest to crush this one lone teacher who dared to fight them. At what point will they call off their legal dogs?

Whichever way she chooses to go, Christine Rubino has fought the good fight for herself and all other persecuted educators.

The Bullying Problem

bully

It looks like it has happened again. Another teacher has taken her own life after being bullied in the workplace:

“The stepfather of a Bassett High School art teacher who committed suicide in July has announced plans to file a wrongful death suit against the district after claiming his stepdaughter’s death resulted from bullying by administrators.

A series of incidents led to Jennifer Lenihan taking a stress leave, which left her in such financial turmoil that she took her own life July 1, the day her mother went to give her money to help with rent, according to Manuel Jaramillo, her stepfather.”

Bassett High School is part of the Bassett Unified School District in Los Angeles County, California. You might recall that another bullied teacher who took his own life, Rigoberto Ruelas, taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Southern California, much like the rest of the country, does not seem to treat their teachers very well.

The tragic case of Jennifer Lenihan’s suicide seems to have certain things in common with the suicide of Mary Thorson. Both teachers reported regular harassment by administrators in front of students. Both teachers took their own lives while on leave from their positions. Both teachers’ families pinpoint the toxic work environment as the main reason why their loved ones were pushed towards suicide.

As someone who has had a front-row seat to the systematic bullying of teachers by administrators, I know the psychological toll it takes on the victims. Like most victims of bullying, they start to internalize the message that they are somehow flawed human beings. As some sort of hybrid of Stockholm Syndrome and a Manchurian Candidate, they begin to identify with the agenda laid out by the bullies that they are not deserving of a career teaching children. Jennifer Lenihan and Mary Thorson took their own lives while on leave from their schools. The timing might not just be mere coincidence. The fact that a teacher is not inside the classroom is solid proof that the bullies are correct about their fitness to teach. A teacher not in the classroom has all the minutes and hours to think, to allow that message to sink in, to internalize it and, eventually, to lose all hope entirely.

The bullying of teachers has sort of, by default, become my pet cause. It was the reason why I created this website in the first place. It is a particularly insidious form of bullying because it takes place inside of places that are supposed to be safe havens for children. The media, government and school districts have exerted much effort recently to stamp out the bullying of children in schools and on the internet. We know that children who are bullied wind up with deep emotional scars that could take a lifetime to heal, if they heal at all. While children should not be bullied at school or anywhere else, we will never be able to eliminate it if the adults in the building are bullying each other. How can the adults create a bully-free environment for their students if they do not know what it looks like?

Closer to home, we are witnessing another case of bullying with Francesco Portelos. I know Francesco and his case. He is currently locked in a heated 3020-a hearing, the procedure that tenured NYC teachers must face before having their licenses revoked. The charges against Francesco read like a sad comedy. Even by DOE standards, the infractions with which he is being charged are frivolous. One only has to look at the attempted hatchet job done on him recently by the New York Post to see this. Usually, the Post calls teachers perverts, incompetents, child abusers and drug addicts. But the worst the Post could throw at Francesco was this:

“Portelos, 34, allegedly made life hell for colleagues at the Staten Island middle school by slapping papers out of people’s hands, mass-e-mailing complaints and making false theft claims.”

Assuming this is all true, which it certainly is not, should this be grounds for termination?

But it is not true at all. If Francesco made “life hell for colleagues”, why would those colleagues elect him chapter leader while we was languishing in a rubber room? I cannot speak for all teachers but I certainly would not vote for a guy who slapped papers out of my hand.

The Post even went on to reveal, unintentionally of course, the real reason why Francesco is being victimized:

“Portelos was relegated to a succession of rubber rooms more than a year ago, after complaining that Hill broke DOE rules permitting parents and staff to review the school budget.

The technology teacher claims he was a “whistleblower” — and got back at his bosses by writing a scathing blog and streaming live video from rubber rooms to which he had been exiled.”

Heck, they even tag the article at the bottom with the term “Whistleblowers”.

The event that is Francesco Portelos is a product of the systematic bullying of teachers taking place in schools nationwide.  He is doing what everyone should do with bullies: fight back. It is easy for teachers to be cowed when they are written up by administrators for frivolous things or hit with retaliatory charges or have investigators come to their homes and ransack their garbage (which was done to Christine Rubino). But both Francesco and Christine fought back and both are winning.

It should not have to come to this. Teachers should not have to come to work in fear of what lies in store for them once they go through those schoolhouse doors. Not only does it distract from the already difficult job of teaching, it creates an environment of fear that automatically gets passed down to the students. We should not have to be put in a position where we have to waste time and brain power protecting ourselves against bullies. No person in any line of work should have to endure those circumstances.

While we can be heartened by the examples of Francesco Portelos and Christine Rubino, their stories are offshoots of a toxic climate imposed on our schools by the Bloomberg regime here in NYC and similarly odious school regimes nationwide. Now that Bloomberg is slinking out of office and a friendlier administration seems likely to take the reins, it is time for our union to take action.

That action needs to be in the form of an anti-bullying clause in the next contract. Bloomberg has allowed us to languish without a contract for the past four years, which means a new contract will be one of the incoming mayor’s priorities. I and many other teachers would forgo retroactive pay (which we probably will not get anyway) for solid protections against bullying. Administrators should face serious consequences for harassing teachers. Teachers should have viable avenues of protection if they become victims of administrator bullying. Schools should no longer be isolated fiefdoms where principals wield absolute power and destroy people with impunity.

This will take some organizing on our part. Something tells me our union leadership is not too keen on making this an issue at the next contract negotiations. I smell a petition brewing.

Speaking of petitions, here are a few you can sign right now over the internet:

Petition calling for Bassett Unified School District to do a thorough investigation into the bullying of teachers.

Petition to reinstate Francesco Portelos to the classroom.

DECLARATION OF A LIFELONG TEACHER

allen

Please welcome our next guest blogger, Christine Rubino:

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To me, the Right to Life means I should not be deprived of my life for the benefit of another person or group of people.

To me, the Right to Liberty means that my thinking be free from interference from the forces of unfreedom.

To me, the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness means that I have a right to live for myself and choose what makes up my personal, private, and individual happiness, just as long as I respect the same right in others.

Today, I realize that these three things were taken from me. I watched them burn, smolder into ash and blow away right in front of my eyes. For the record, I did not go down without a good fight.

Some things in life you are born with. I was lucky to be on the line, which gave me a good sense of humor, fortitude, and the ability to relate to children. I consider the last gift to be paramount to my whole being.

I grew up in the early 1970’s in a predominately Italian neighborhood. It is now known as Cobble Hill. Before it was invaded by hipsters and Midwestern transplants, we just called it “”South Brooklyn”. I lived directly across from the Red Hook projects and one block off of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. My days were filled with playing outside and keeping my eyes on my younger cousins. I loved this job and took great pride in it. It was then that I learned that I was a natural teacher. This has formed a major part of my identity ever since.

My parents moved us out to Marine Park by 1984, which seemed like the opposite end of the planet to a 12-year-old like me. One day, a new family moved across the street from us. They had 4 children ages 7,4,2, and 1. The mother of this family asked me one day if I knew anyone who could babysit her children. Being the boisterous child I was, I immediately told her it was her lucky day because she was looking at her new babysitter. Looking after her children made me happy and gave me purpose. They are grown now and help take care of my own kids. As time went on, they became my second family. There is a trust, an unspoken bond, between us. It is a bond that was forged all of those years ago when they were little ones in my care.

Babysitting was my sole means of income throughout college. I watched many people’s children around my neighborhood.  When it came time for me to decide upon a college major, it was inevitable that I chose Childhood Education. My parents were proud.  They said it was a fabulous union job, something I could make into a career. I graduated from Kingsborough Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood, then transferred to Brooklyn College where I got a B.S. in Elementary Education. I continued at Brooklyn College until I received my Master’s in Math Education.

In 1996, at the ripe old age of 24, I began teaching full-time at P.S.203 which is in a section of Brooklyn called Old Mill Basin. Once there, I held many different jobs and developed into a jack-of-all-trades. I got along with every child that crossed my path, just like I did during my babysitting career.

My days as a teacher were filled with:

1) The constant chatter of children, to which I added constant chatter of my own.

2) Paperwork, paperwork and paperwork.

3) Planning, organizing, and implementing lessons

4) Meeting deadlines

5) Adhering to a minute by minute schedule, including planned bathroom breaks.

6) Creating and grading homework and projects.

7) Writing notes and making phone calls home.

8) Making sure that I was always prepared and that my students were learning.

9) Planning and overseeing trips that I always managed to creatively connect to even the most boring topics.

10) Making copies

Within this list are things that I loved and things that I did not love so much. It was all worth it because it allowed me to be around children; to let my natural vocation as a teacher flourish.

Fourteen years of my life I put in that school before I was terminated at the ripe old age of 38 in June 2011.

Whenever I speak to colleagues, I find that I do a ton of reminiscing. Most of my sentences start with “when, I was in the classroom…” or “when I was a teacher…”. When that happens, my friends say “you will always be a teacher”. Their words make me pick myself up and brush the eraser dust off.

I am still a teacher when I listen to my own children chatter and laugh.

I am still a teacher when my children come home from school and I help them with homework, projects and studying.

I am still a teacher when my friends send their children to me so that I can help them with their tricky math problems.

I am still a teacher when I am talking to my own friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. I am asking a million questions and answering all of theirs.

I am still a teacher when I see a sign misspelled or a grammatical error in a book. I feel a need to get out a red pencil and start circling, highlighting and commenting. I even want to reach for the post-it notes.

I am still a teacher when I am trying to cheer a friend up, requiring me to dig deep into my humor arsenal to get a smile or a laugh.

I am still a teacher when I have to shuttle my children and their friends to and from school and all of their other activities.

I am still a teacher when I realize that every single second of the day has to be spent productively and accounted for. Yes, even bathroom breaks are still planned.

Despite the Department of Education’s efforts to deprive me of my life, liberty and happiness, they have not deprived me of my identity as a teacher.

That does not mean that my life has not been drastically changed. It has changed in ways that I could never have imagined. I was living decently when I was employed, raising my children and trying to keep my head above water like every other working person. Instead of a ”rags to riches”, my life since being terminated has been a ”rags to tattered threads” tale. It is not even remotely close to the life I led when I was gainfully employed in a “good” union job

My liberty has been buried. Yes, I am free to think but I always have this little pitchforked guy on my shoulder. He is constantly poking me. He is forcing me to self-edit EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT, WORD AND ACTION. Self-editing is essential in life but not to the extent of which I am speaking. That one moment years ago when the pitchforked man was not around constantly comes back to haunt me. People continue to judge me, my character and my abilities as a teacher based upon a few sentences I wrote years ago, sentences that I regretted and erased quickly after they were written.

As far as my happiness goes, I have been forced to pursue it even more. I have on the best and most expensive running sneakers. I am running as fast as I can. Yet, no matter how fast I run, I just cannot grab the baton from my partner’s hand. I can see it shining but I just cannot feel it. But, one day, I hope to have hold of it again.

So, despite the fact that I have been deprived of my life, liberty and happiness, I have not been deprived of my identity. YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF TEACHING, BUT YOU CANNOT TAKE THE TEACHING OUT OF THE GIRL.

WHO IS NEXT TO GUEST BLOG? A ROLE MODEL

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid and drug addict.

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid head and drug addict.

I thank Ms. Ortiz for her inaugural post here yesterday as a guest blogger. Now that we have an idea of who she is and from whence she is coming, it is a good time to introduce the next guest blogger to you. As you will see, this next person is at a totally different stage in their life and career.

Those of you who have followed this site, or New York education news in general, will be familiar with this person. I thought it was important for you to hear what this person has to say and to give them a chance to say it.

The person to whom I refer is Christine Rubino.

If you don’t know the case of Christine Rubino, you can familiarize yourself with it here, here and here. I first learned about her situation from the New York print media who were, not surprisingly, less than fair. For this reason, I decided to write about her situation myself. Despite the fact that this site can never hope to have the type of reach of the New York Post or Daily News, I would have been remiss if I didn’t use this little corner of the internet to give her a fair hearing. I am glad that I did because, since my first piece about her, Christine and I have become friends.

What convinced me of the need to talk about her story were the responses it elicited in the comments section of the news sites. People could not wait to pass all types of judgments on her character and fitness to be a teacher. It was sadly ironic that people who bemoaned the lack of role models for our children were saying some of the most vile and hateful things to be found on the internet. Vile and hateful not only describes the treatment she received from anonymous Puritans, but from the Puritans at the Department of Education as well.

As most of us know, Christine’s nightmare stemmed from a comment she made on her private Facebook page. It is a comment that Christine has never defended. She removed it very soon after it was posted. Very few people saw the comment. Since no students or parents were on her Facebook page, it would have been very unlikely that anyone who would have been truly offended by it would have ever known of its existence.

Unfortunately, one of the people who saw the comment during its brief life span was the resident teacher snitch of Christine’s school. Not only did he see it, he took a screen shot of it, saved it, printed it out and showed it to the assistant principal, a man with whom he had a “special” relationship. It usually works out that the people who have the most to say about their coworkers are also the ones with the most skeletons in their own closet.

The rest is history, a sad and bizarre history. The Special Commissioner of Investigation of the DOE sent goons to her house to rifle through her garbage. Those same goons harassed and threatened Christine’s friends. They lied through their teeth at her hearing. Her union-appointed lawyer wanted to roll over and die, pretty much advising her to accept her termination without a fight. The DOE lawyers tried to cast a pall of doubt on her character. Since Christine had a clean record as a teacher of 14 years, they weren’t above coaching the principal and students to lie about her, not to mention making up lies themselves. The head of the Administrative Trials Unit ensured that the “independent” arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, came to the right decision: termination.

Did it matter to anyone that this was a comment made on her private Facebook page? Did it matter that the comment expressed the normal frustrations of being a teacher? Did it matter that she had taken the comment down almost immediately after it went up? Did it matter that she showed remorse and never defended what she said? Did it matter that she had a spotless record as an educator?

It mattered to Christine Rubino, who took Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. It mattered to Judge Barbara Jaffe, who ruled that Lowitt’s termination decree was “shocking to the conscience” of the court.  It matters to any teacher or thinking person who has an ounce of empathy.

The Department of Education likes to say that it puts “students first”. Christine’s two children are students in the DOE. Did they put those students first when they took away the livelihood of their mother? Are they putting them first by denying the woman they tried to destroy any form of unemployment compensation? If people are so concerned about role models for our children, why don’t they criticize the unethical and underhanded way the DOE harasses teachers? Barring that, why don’t these people act like the role models they seek by not judging an entire person’s character based upon one news article?

It is for these reasons that it is important we hear directly from Christine Rubino. When I had the idea of getting some guest bloggers, Christine was the first person who came to mind. I have seen first-hand the type of good person she is. I have seen her be a mother to her children, protecting them from the misery through which she has been put so they can have as normal a life as possible. I have seen her open her house to people and share what she has, despite the fact that she can barely make ends meet herself. I have seen how she maintains friendships she has had since childhood, a sure sign of a person with character and integrity. I have seen Christine help me get some of the things I needed to get settled into my new apartment when I moved a few months ago. Perhaps if other people see the type of person she is, they wouldn’t be so quick to pass ignorant and misinformed judgments on her.

Up until now, Christine has had people speaking for her. Me, her lawyers, the DOE and the media have all been allowed to paint the picture of what type of person she is. But she deserves a space where she can speak for herself.

The Christine  Rubino case has been a lesson in the best and the worst in humanity. On the one hand, you have a person who has done nothing but be generous and helpful to everyone around her; someone who always wanted to be a teacher and did the job with distinction. On the other hand, you have a bureaucracy that lied, sneaked around and harassed to get what they wanted, and what they wanted was the destruction of another human being.

You can decide for yourself which one is the bad role model for our children. I, for one, would not allow a bad role model to be a guest blogger on this site. Stay tuned because tomorrow, for the first time, Christine Rubino finally speaks for herself.

A Very Close Look At Tenure

South Bronx School posted the first twelve of what promises to be many hundreds of pages of transcripts from Christine Rubino’s 3020a hearing. This is the supposedly fair hearing process through which teachers in New York City accused of wrongdoing have to go to determine whether or not they get terminated.

This is tenure in action. Anyone who still clings to the fallacy that tenure means a job for life should read these transcripts. By the way, the “tenured” Christine Rubino was terminated in this hearing.

It has been some months since I have read a book. Yet, in that time, I have read a few 3020a transcripts from different teachers and I am always enthralled by what goes on in those secretive little rooms on Chambers Street. This is the type of reading material that can be made into a great and sad movie, like a Greek tragedy or, more appropriately, a farce.

From a distance, the 3020a process resembles a legal proceeding. There is a judge, known as an arbitrator. There are lawyers: a defense attorney (appointed by the union by default) for the teacher and a lawyer for the Department of Education (the one who tries to terminate the teacher).  There is a stenographer keeping records. There are supposedly neat protocols and procedures determined by state labor law.

These protocols, again, resemble a court of law. There is a pre-hearing where the lawyers exchange evidence, the most important of which is a list of witnesses. This process is called “discovery” in a regular court of law (correct me if my legalese is off here). Then, witnesses are examined and cross-examined by the lawyers. Attorneys can object and have those objections sustained or overruled by the arbitrator.

Upon closer look, however, the fancy sheen of these hearings hides a rotten core. We can see this rotten core in the transcripts of the Rubino case.

As is mentioned in the transcripts, Christine rid herself of her union-appointed lawyer during the pre-hearing. This is understandable. Teachers who have gone through this process raise concerns that the union lawyer is not really on their side. For example, union lawyers always advise teachers to close off the hearing to the public. This allows them to work clandestine deals with the arbitrator and DOE without input from the teacher. These deals routinely end up with the teacher getting either the pink slip or forced resignation. It seems that the union lawyers have an interest in shepherding as many veteran teachers out of the system as possible. In many cases, the lawyers advise the teacher to resign even before the hearing begins. The same thing can be said for union leaders at both the school and district level who, as I have seen on many occasions, advise teachers facing 3020a charges to merely lie down and die by allowing the DOE to take their careers from them. Therefore, even before the pre-hearing begins, the union, the supposed defender of the teachers, beats it into the teachers’ heads that there is no hope.

How hard, then, do you expect the union to fight in a teacher’s favor? Campbell Brown says the United Federation of Teachers goes to bat for sexual predators. In reality, they do not go to bat for anyone.

So, after being subject to the union’s defeatist attitude for months, Christine fired her union attorney. She saw him in (in)action during the pre-hearing and knew she was toast if he continued to represent her. She signed off on his release, at which point he gave her all of the pertinent documents given to him by the DOE during discovery. This was late in the day of February 16, 2011. The hearing was scheduled to start the morning of February 17, 2011. Christine had mere hours to scrounge up the money to find a new, non-union lawyer. She also had to get home to feed, bathe and tuck in her two young children who she raises by herself.

Needless to say, when the next day rolled around, she was short a lawyer. She knew that she was going to retain Bryan Glass as her attorney, but did not have the time to get him the $5,000 he charges for his services. She had the money, which she had to scrap together throughout the course of the previous evening, but not the time to get it to him. All she needed was an extra day, an extra few hours even, to get him the money and have him come to Chambers Street.

Therefore, the entire first day of Christine’s hearing (the day covered by the transcript at the South Bronx School website) revolves around the DOE lawyer maneuvering to start the proceedings without Christine’s lawyer. He had a lot of help in this from the arbitrator and our old friend, Randi Lowitt.  Christine was faced with the prospect of being her own lawyer that day. She at least wanted an hour to go over the humungous stack of files given to her the day before so that she could know who the DOE was going to call as witnesses that day. As she said:

… I had just gotten the packet. So I would like to read it. I really haven’t been given much time. Once I left Mr. Glass, I went home to my two children and was enthralled in homework and bath and bedtime. So I could not read that. I would like to have some time to read this and go through the documents. I need a good hour or two. And Mr. Glass will get his money by the end of today or tomorrow, so that he can take on the case. So, right now, I have no counsel.

And our good friend Randi Lowitt responds later:

The case, as I told Mr. Glass on the phone last night, and I know he wasn’t representing you, and as Mr. Kelly (the union lawyer) told you yesterday during the course of the prehearing conference, the case is properly scheduled. The timing is properly met. Nothing has been improperly done, relative to the scheduling of this case. And that is why today’s hearing has not yet and will not be adjourned. It is a properly timed, properly commenced action. And it will proceed today. You will be able to participate in it, to the extent that you wish. The Department has the obligation to bring the case forward. So, unless I’m speaking out of turn, Mr. Gamils (the DOE lawyer), he’ll make an opening statement. I assume he has a witness or two here for us to hear. He’ll question them. You’ll have the opportunity to cross-examine them. And that’s the way the case proceeds. And the next hearing date is February 28th. So there is plenty of time, between now and then, if you chose to retain counsel…

Therefore, because the case is “properly scheduled”, it does not matter if Christine has a lawyer or not. Christine can cross-examine the DOE’s first witness, which happened to be Christine’s principal, on her own. For all of the proper rules and procedures established by 3020a, apparently a properly represented teacher is not one of them. Even accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay get some sort of representation. But, hey, we are teachers. We are worse than terrorists in the eyes of everyone else.

Of course, the DOE lawyer chimes in later with this revealing nugget:

I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Department to make any type of comment on Ms. Rubino’s statements. All we’re going to say is that we believe that she was well aware that this hearing was commencing by February 3rd. She had requested the hearing. She has spoken to counsel previously. She was adequately represented yesterday. The Hearing Officer made a representation that the hearing was commencing today. She still chose to fire her counsel and she has come today without counsel. Department is ready to proceed and, at that point, we will rest making any comments regarding her statements…

So, Christine was told way ahead of time that the hearing was going to start that day. Despite that important fact, she still chose to fire her lawyer. What a horrible decision on her part! I mean, she knew the hearing to decide her career and whether or not she will be able to feed her two children was starting February 17, 2011, and she had the gall to not want her incompetent, defeatist and uncooperative union attorney to be in charge of her defense. She is just so difficult. To hell with her representation. If she does not want to play ball the way it is supposed to be played, she can defend herself. We, the almighty DOE, are ready to proceed. After all, we had an army of high-priced New York City Police Department detective drop-outs investigate her for a year, go through her garbage, question her friends and write up reports through Richard Condon’s office, and we did it with no time limit and no pressure whatsoever. We took our sweet old time and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars railroading Christine Rubino for the past year. It is only fair that she have no opportunity to get real representation or even get an hour break so she can read the thousands of pages of “evidence” we handed off to her deadbeat lawyer yesterday. Most of that evidence we have absolutely no intention of using anyway, since it is a tactic we use to prevent the other side from properly preparing a defense.

Yes, this is exactly what Mr. Gamils, the DOE lawyer, is saying.

To her credit, Christine held her ground. She held the floor as long as she could to reiterate her point that she needed proper representation that would take her one measly old day to get. She kept explaining how it was not fair that she was being forced to proceed without representation, or at least a break to give her the opportunity to prepare. At one point, she even said that she felt as if she was being punished for firing her union lawyer. That is precisely what they were trying to do. It is typical DOE: retaliation for not playing their brand of filthy ball. Retaliation with the complicity of the union.

And then we get to my favorite Randi Lowitt quote of the entire hearing:

Oh, okay. I have been reviewing in my mind the conversation we had over the past hour or so. And while acknowledging that there is no obligation at all, anywhere, for me to do so, I am going to grant Ms. Rubino’s request for an adjournment for today. Please be clear, on the record, that if State Education does not cover my fee–obviously, I am not going to let the DOE cover it because the DOE is not asking for the adjournment–and it will be your responsibility to cover my fee, Ms. Rubino. Do you understand that? If the State Education Department does not cover my fee–but I’m going to submit it to them because we have been working this and that’s the way it goes. Um, but I do not want to disadvantage you, especially when it comes to questioning witnesses, with not having counsel present. Acknowledging the fact that although you were told, yesterday, that the hearing would go forward today, you were not able to retain counsel as expeditiously as you might have wished….

So, Randi Lowitt, a woman who gets paid upwards of $1,800 a day, does not want to adjourn because she fears she will not get paid her daily “fee”. She demands that the woman she knows she is going to terminate, the woman who is blowing her life’s savings on salvaging her career, pay her daily fee if “State Education” does not cover it. This just so Christine Rubino can get halfway decent representation. Christine’s children have to starve so Randi Lowitt can keep driving her Mercedes (I assume) and living in her McMansion (I assume). Apparently, people can make a great living from destroying teachers and making inane sports references (read the transcript) all day long.

Of course, this could have also been Lowitt’s way of trying to dissuade Christine from asking for an adjournment, in which case it makes Lowitt a liar and a bully. Liar, bully, extortionist or teacher-killer, you decide.

Yet, Christine stuck to her guns and received the adjournment she was seeking. As you can read in the transcript, she refused to be bullied by the DOE, Randi Lowitt and Theresa Europe.

Unfortunately, this was just the start of many daily uphill battles Christine Rubino had to fight. We know what happened at the end of this hearing. We also know that the New York State Supreme Court overturned Lowitt’ s Draconian termination. Unfortunately, Lowitt got the case again and suspended Christine for two years without pay. That is two years of being unable to pay her mortgage or feed her children. All the while, Randi Lowitt lives high on the hog terminating, extorting and taking revenge on teachers.

This is another close-up of the 3020a process. This is what “tenure” looks like for New York City public school teachers. Oh, what cushy gigs us teachers have.

The DOE’s Long War on Christine Rubino

Casualty of war: the arbitrator’s first decision

When we last saw Christine Rubino, the New York State Supreme Court vacated the Department of Education’s penalty for comments she made on her private Facebook page.

The penalty was termination. The arbitrator who came up with the penalty, Randi Lowitt, knew that this was the outcome the DOE wanted. She was probably the only arbitrator ever to have the head of the DOE’s Administrative Trials Unit, Theresa Europe, stare daggers at her throughout the hearing to ensure she came to the right decision.

As we have seen, in June of 2010, Christine wrote on her private Facebook wall that it was a perfect day to take her students to the beach. This was a day after a NYC student drowned off the coast of Long Island.

Christine was one of the first, if not the first, teacher in NYC to be brought up on charges for something she wrote on Facebook. This was before the DOE’s social media policy. This was also at a time when working people nationwide were being fired for things they said on the internet, especially teachers. The case of Christine Rubino was the morning star of a movement aimed at depriving working people of their freedom of speech.

This movement found many well wishers in the media and the general public. Newspaper articles made Christine out to be some sort of loose cannon. Readers who left comments on the NY and Huffington Post were quick to call for her termination, to exclaim that she was unfit to be around children and to say that this warranted her being deprived of her livelihood.

The drums of hypocritical American Puritanism beat heavy and constant in the case of Christine Rubino. The general public wants to bully teachers, call them names, blame them for low test scores and poverty, say we are underworked and overpaid and are drawn from the meanest part of the intellectual bell curve. Yet, at the same time, they want us underworked, overpaid idiots to be held to a moral system that Oliver Cromwell himself could not follow. They want us to smile at the grocery store, wave hello to them every morning and, if we use Facebook, to do nothing but post pictures of us grading exams and write thoughts about how every child is special like a snowflake.

We are to act like Mr. Rogers and be treated like Mr. Gotti.

Yet, Christine did something that these reporters and jurors in the court of public opinion have rarely done in their own lives: she took responsibility for what she did. Three days after she posted her comments, she erased them from her wall. This was before any investigation or inkling she would be in trouble. She took down her comments because she realized they were wrong. She did not need the specter of public controversy to all of the sudden force her to acknowledge she had made a mistake. Instead, she tried to rectify the mistake on her own accord.

Unfortunately, as we saw previously, a coworker of hers had already printed up her words and had designs to show it to the principal. This is a teacher that has since been removed from his classroom to await 3020a charges of his own; charges that could land him a lengthy jail sentence. Schools always have their resident snitches, the ones who inform on their colleagues because they are unable to let their professional work speak for itself. It is often the case that these snitches have dark skeletons of their own to hide. Finding ways to get their colleagues in trouble is a way to throw the scent off of their own often hideous wrongdoing. So it was in this case.

If it was not for this snitch, Christine’s comments would have dissolved into the ether. No reporters or private hypocrites would have had the opportunity to establish themselves as her judge.

Throughout her entire hearing, Christine was remorseful about what she had said. At no point did she stand by her words or try to defend them. She owned up to her actions for what they were: a mistake, a lapse of judgment, a regrettable action. This was not enough for the DOE or Randi Lowitt or the media or the lynch mob of public opinion. Terminate her, ensure her children starve and never allow her around children again. Meanwhile, the accused child molester who ratted her out gets to work another year in a public school building. Way to go, all of you.

The bright side is that, one, Christine Rubino did not give up the fight to salvage her career and her good name; and, two, the New York State Supreme Court under Barbara Jaffe is wiser than the DOE, Randi Lowitt, the media and the hypocrites. She vacated Lowitt’s decision and ordered her to come up with a less draconian punishment.

That punishment has turned out to be two years suspension without pay. That means that Randi Lowitt thinks it is fitting for Christine to face another year of being unable to support her children. Perhaps this is the “children first” policy the DOE speaks so much about.

Randi Lowitt’s new decision reads like something written by a woman scorned, an arbitrator who had her ridiculous ruling overturned, a primal scream of vindictive pettiness. She makes very little mention of Christine’s Facebook comment and, instead, bases her two-year suspension on the fact that one of Christine’s friends lied during the investigation.

What happened was that, in an attempt to save Christine, a friend of hers lied to investigators and said she was the one who logged into Christine’s account and wrote the incriminating things. In the world of Randi Lowitt, this means that Christine put her up to the lie. What evidence does Randi Lowitt have to substantiate this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That does not matter. In the world of 3020a, a teacher is guilty no matter what the evidence, or lack thereof, says. Randi Lowitt, understanding that the jig was up as far as the Facebook comment is concerned, instead based her two-year suspension on the fact that Christine Rubino’s friend lied to investigators.

This is how the equation works in Lowitt’s head: Christine’s friend lied, which means that Christine was behind the lie. Yet, every time I ask Christine about her lie, she insists she did not lie. What a liar! Not only that, she never apologized for putting her friend up to the lie. Why does she just not take responsibility for the lie she never told? This is unacceptable! Looks like her and her children need another year of starvation.

She should have lied and said she put her friend up to the lie, then she would not be such a liar! Instead of giving her a two-year suspension for being a liar, I would have given her a two-year suspension for being a liar.

Thankfully, Christine is fighting this most recent round of viciousness on the part of the DOE. Her story teaches us a lot about how teachers in similar situations can find some measure of justice.

First, everyone associated with the 3020a process knows it is a joke. The investigators are retired detectives from the NYPD. When they get a case, they know whether or not the principal or the board wants that teacher out. Their job is not to find the truth as much as it is to use the truth in a manner conducive to punishing a teacher. For example, at a recent 3020a hearing about which I will write more in the future, one of these investigators found that a comment a teacher made on Facebook was a total joke. Case closed, right? Wrong. According to the investigator, he has children and he would not want his children’s teacher joking around in this manner. Therefore, he believes the teacher should be terminated.

This investigation takes about 6 months to a year. In the meantime, the teacher is reassigned and usually does not know why they are being investigated. They are in the dark and they wait. It is here where the DOE hopes that the teacher will save everyone the trouble and quit. If the teacher is sufficiently scared, they might go the way of Mary Thorson. To the DOE and the investigators, it is all the same.

If the teacher sticks around this long, they finally get to the 3020a process. First, they meet with the lawyer who is paid with the teacher’s union dues. Most of the time, the lawyer will encourage the teacher to resign or settle for some ridiculous punishment all out of proportion to what the teacher is accused of. Part of this is laziness. The other part is that these lawyers know that the hearing itself is a joke and they would rather save themselves the embarrassment.

By this point, a great many teachers opt out of the game. They will either resign or drop dead during the investigation, or get railroaded out by their union lawyer. For those hearty souls that decide to go through with a hearing, their union lawyer will tell them the hearing is private. Nobody from the outside will be allowed to witness it. If the teacher wants to make it a public hearing, count on the lawyer throwing a hissy fit. They will make a million and one excuses as to why everything should be done in secret. This is because they want to take the 10 or so cases on which they are working, sit down with the arbitrator and DOE lawyer, and go down the list to tick off the names of which teachers get fired and which do not. It does not matter the merits of each individual case. They would prefer to sit there and divide the spoils, so to speak.

If you get your public hearing, be prepared for one of the saddest jokes this side of the Mississippi. The DOE lawyers will introduce the charges, then they will introduce more charges that they never showed you or your lawyer beforehand. They will then ask the arbitrator, and receive from the arbitrator, permission to add more charges, evidence and witnesses as the hearing progresses. They literally make it up as they go along. Many of these DOE lawyers would be selling apples in the subway if this 3020a process did not exist. They call themselves lawyers, but they are more like law school dropouts and graduates of online JD courses, where all one needs for a degree is a printer and mouse that clicks.

And why not? The DOE does not need good lawyers when the process is so skewed in its favor.

The arbitrators sit there and take notes, allowing the DOE lawyers do whatever it is they want to do. In their mind, it is not a matter of a teacher being guilty or not guilty. It is a matter of what they will find the teacher guilty of and what will the penalty be. Teachers that get to keep their job are so thankful that they have made it through this process that they will take their punishment and move on. Those that get terminated are so demoralized and beaten down by the process that they just want to pick up the pieces of their lives and find some form of employment.

That is exactly the way the DOE wants the process to work. They understand that 3020a is a joke, that the process is a sham, arbitrators are in their pockets and the lawyers are court jesters. They know that the rulings that come out of that building on Chambers Street bear little resemblance to truth or justice. The DOE gets it. This process is designed to get teachers to go away on their own. Most teachers do just that.

Not Christine Rubino. She is the worst nightmare of the DOE and arbitrators like Randi Lowitt. She will not roll over and die while these hucksters make off with her career. She makes the DOE fight for every inch they get. She is now out to appeal the two-year suspension. This explains why Randi Lowitt’s decision reads like the ramblings of a hurt 10-year-old and not a venerable figure of justice. It explains why the DOE releases information to Sue Edelman of the NY Post so she can do one of her trademark hatchet jobs.

A teacher who tries to fight the DOE in its own court is a fool. Everyone, including the union lawyer, is in the DOE’s back pocket. The real fight is in the press, on the blogs and in real courts of law where the DOE’s filth is exposed to the light of day.

All the same, the toll is heavy on people like Christine Rubino. Yes, she fights, but that means the DOE spends more time judging her and her character. That means more hatchet jobs in the press, more assassinations on her character by rank-and-file morons and more opportunities to live and relive this walking nightmare.

Most importantly, this means that Christine Rubino is still without the means to support herself or her two children. It means that poverty and desperation define the lives of her and her kids. How the likes of Randi Lowitt, Theresa Europe, Dennis Walcott, Michael Mulgrew, Sue Edelman and the base fools who leave anonymous comments about her character can still live with themselves is beyond me.

A Paypal account has been established to help Christine and her family make it through this rough time to come. You would think the union would help her, but she does them no good because she cannot pay them dues anymore. Please, give whatever you can. She is fighting not just for herself, but for every teacher who has been, or will be, the target of the DOE and the handmaidens of education reform.

DONATE HERE

Teachers, You Are Being Watched

I always feel like, somebody’s watching meeeee.

Chancellor Walcott has already said in the DOE’s social media policy that teachers should have no “expectation of privacy” online. This includes our Facebook pages and our blogs. The principal’s union tepidly protested by saying it is unfair to administrators to make them police the online actions of teachers.

With the cases of Christine Rubino and Patricia Dawson, we have seen teachers destroyed for what they have said on the internet. There might come a day, not too far off, when I will be targeted as well.

I already know this blog is being watched. It has been banned on the DOE’s server, most likely for my early articles in support of Occupy Wall Street. Then there was the time that the police showed up to a public, open-air discussion that I had promoted on this blog.

Sometimes, when I am looking at my site stats, I wonder who is out there just reading in an attempt to find something, anything, that could incriminate me.

Yes, I am paranoid. After the horror stories I have heard of and witnessed, you would be as well.

It is funny, since I try my best to not personalize this blog in any way. My topics are generally universal. I do not reveal anything about the politics at my school or who I have problems with. That is not what I want this blog to be.

Yet, I know that people are watching me, people even more paranoid than me.

Look at what happened to Francesco Portelos. In many ways, he runs my alter-blog. He has been fearless in naming names in an attempt to hold his administration and union rep accountable. He was recently reassigned due to an investigation, an investigation that we all knew was coming at some point.

There is a petition in support of Mr. Portelos that you can sign via the NYC Rubber Room Reporter.

And yet, the people that know me best have advised me to watch my back. They see the handwriting on the wall that the boys in the trench coats are coming for me next. They too know I am being watched and they fear for my career.

I know there is no free speech anymore. The DOE, as well as employers in general, want to make it so their workers cannot be critical in any way of the rotten system to which they bear witness on a daily basis.

All I can say is that this blog has never been about me. It has been about making universal observations about the DOE, education, politics and social class. All I have done on this little internet space is exercise my First Amendment right to discuss issues of public moment.

But, then again, so does Mr. Portelos.

We are both radicals in our own way. The DOE would love nothing more than to make examples out of radicals.

So, keep your eyes peeled for news as to when, where and why I am being reassigned. To those shadowy figure who have been keeping an eye on me: I hope you find what you are looking for. It must be nice to have a job where you can spend time reading the harmless words of regular people. I just hope it is all worth it for you in the end.

This one is dedicated to you:

Corporate Workers, Corporate Children

Corporate mascot, nothing more

After trying to destroy teachers like Christine Rubino and Patricia Dawson over perfectly innocuous Facebook comments, New York City’s Department of Education has finally unveiled its social media policy. The lack of policy allowed these two great teachers to be brought up on frivolous charges. Now that a policy is in place, nothing will change.

To summarize, teachers cannot friend students on Facebook or communicate with them via their private Facebook accounts. But, teachers can set up class pages where students can get help with work. All that is needed is approval from an administrator as well as written permission from parents. Essentially, they have made establishing professional Facebook pages so burdensome that it is unlikely any thinking teacher would go through the trouble to create one at all.

The most chilling part of the policy is that teachers should have no expectation of privacy on their personal Facebook pages. Administrators will be on the lookout for inappropriate (what a great word) comments from teachers. Something is inappropriate on Facebook if it would be considered inappropriate in the classroom or a professional work environment.

The leader of the administrator’s union is on record as saying that this requires administrators to police teachers’ private Facebook pages, a liberty many principals have already been taking. Our esteemed union leader, Michael Mulgrew, is on record as saying that the policy discourages teachers from using social media in any capacity whatsoever, private or professional.

During a lesson on ancient Greece, telling my students what I did on Friday night could be deemed inappropriate. My Friday nights usually consist of quiet reading and feeding my cat, yet it is not something that should be shared with one’s class. Do I get investigated if I share what I did on Friday night on Facebook? It would be inappropriate if my best friend, who is not a DOE employee, came walking into my classroom to joke with me. Do I get investigated if he posts something on my Facebook page now?

The policy is wide enough to drive a truck through, or at least wide enough to drive a maniacal administrator’s ego through.

This touches on serious issues of freedom of speech not just for teachers, but for all workers. Ostensibly, the First Amendment protects our freedom of speech from being denied by the government. We have taken this to mean that employers, whether public or private, are free to discipline their workers for things that they say out of the workplace. It is the reason why Ozzie Guillen can be suspended by the Miami Marlins for things he said about Fidel Castro. It is the reason why the DOE can make a social media policy this broad. Neither the Marlins nor the DOE are, strictly speaking, the government and, therefore, they have the power to abridge the freedom of speech of the people on their payrolls.

It seems there is a conflict here: individual freedom of speech versus the freedom of employers to discipline their workers for that speech. The employers are winning.

During the Civil Rights era, protestors conducted boycotts and sit-ins of businesses that practiced segregation. While the 14th Amendment provides that everyone in all states should be protected by the Bill of Rights, people who got the short end of segregation were having their rights violated. This segregation was enshrined in southern Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only did away with those Jim Crow laws, but required businesses to not segregate their customers or employees. Since that time, all types of federal agencies have ensured that businesses follow some sort of guideline of equal opportunity in who they serve and/or employ, although not as vigorously as they used to.

Libertarians like Rand Paul have criticized the Civil Rights Act because it tells businesses against whom they can discriminate (i.e.: nobody). They see it as a violation of the rights of American businesses. After all, they are businesses. If they want to discriminate, let them discriminate. The 14th Amendment merely guarantees that government, both state and federal, will not discriminate against people. Businesses are not the government, therefore they should be free to discriminate if they so choose.

It is this type of logic that allows employers to lay down guidelines about what their employees say outside of work hours. An employee always represents their place of business, the thinking goes, and should be mindful of that fact when they go about his or her life.

And it is this type of thinking that has been responsible for the curtailment of our freedoms. The Founding Fathers wrote the Bill of Rights in an age when people owned and farmed land. They did not have to worry about representing a company or employer like we do now. Allowing employers to regulate their workers, even when they are not on the clock, has been a backdoor way to controlling what we can and cannot say. Our speech is increasingly being defined by who signs our checks. The rights of employers have been trumping the rights of citizens. As citizens, this should be of grave concern.

In my opinion, First Amendment rights should be absolute. There should be a 28th Amendment that expands on the 14th (how numerically appropriate would that be?) that guarantees that neither government nor employers can infringe upon our Constitutional rights. I suppose I am alone in thinking this.

The other issue with the DOE’s social media policy is seen in the way the New York Times covered the story. The title of the article is “Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact”, yet the article seems much more concerned with the “student-teacher contact” portion. It highlights several cases where teachers had sent sexually explicit or inappropriate messages to students via the internet or telephone. The Times’ point is crystal clear: we need a social media, as well as a cell phone policy, because teachers are perverts who sexually harass students every chance they get.

While I do not have students on my personal Facebook page, I never assumed that teachers that did were perverts. I never assumed that it was a front so that these teachers could carry on inappropriate relationships. This is because I am an adult who does not have a childish fear that molesters are everywhere in our school system, not to mention society in general. I have worked with hundreds of teachers during my career. The times I have ran across true blue child molesters are notable because they are rare, rare enough to count on less than one hand.

More than just the regular old teacher bashing in which the media partakes daily, this article shows very clearly the media’s role in creating fear in our society. The local news is filled with stories of people being robbed and murdered. For the past few days, the news here in New York City has been obsessed with a tragedy involving 7 members of the same family plunging to their deaths on the Bronx River Parkway. It has been sandwiched between all of the warnings that terrorists might try something on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, not to mention reminders of how close Times Square came to blowing up at this time last year. I guess it is time to move the terror level to red. Start stocking up on batteries and bottled water.

So the media-generated epidemic of pedophile teachers fits in well with the overall crusade of the media to make us all afraid of everything all of the time. We have enshrined children behind so many laws that adults are scared to death to come near them. Teachers fear tutoring children in their classrooms lest one of their fearful colleagues gets the wrong idea. Education deformers, not to mention the general saccharine clichés, idealize children as “our future” and set them up with this image of being Rousseau’s noble savages.

Yet, we cannot close their schools fast enough. We cannot cut their art, music and humanities programs with enough speed. We cannot wait to throw another high-stakes exam in their way. At the same time, we cannot bombard our children’s eyes with enough advertising nor can we force feed our teenagers enough sexually charged popular culture. All of us: teachers, parents and society at large must keep our distance from children. We must keep our distance so that the corporate class can have their own way with them, whether it is through education deform or mass media.

The DOE’s Moral Bankruptcy

As a potential witness in an ongoing 3020a hearing for a colleague, it has been made very clear to me that I am not to talk about specifics of the case. The same goes for my colleague. One gets the sense that the Department of Education treats this as an actual trial.

We have already seen in the case of Chaz that the DOE has no problem with revealing incomplete information to the media about cases that have already been resolved. Despite the fact that independent arbitrators have already closed the cases of 16 teachers, the Daily News was able to run an article about these teachers along with Dennis Walcott’s sentiments that they should be fired.

The Daily News was only able to run this story because the DOE gave them biased and incomplete information.

It does not stop there. Susan Edelman of the New York Post ran a story this morning featuring teachers who got in trouble for things they have said on Facebook. The first teacher that was mentioned stuck out:

Meanwhile, Facebook is an occupational hazard. Patricia Dawson, an English teacher at the HS of Economics and Finance in Manhattan, is fighting DOE termination on misconduct charges for jesting 15 months ago on her Facebook page, “I’ll bring a gun to school” to get into security-controlled elevators. Several students joined in the banter — one offering to bring a gun to help her.

“No one took it seriously,” an insider said.

Colleagues say Dawson should not lose her career over a wisecrack, but her words, which the DOE deems harmful, are carved in cyberspace.

Patricia Dawson is “fighting termination”. Does this mean that the DOE is still doing an investigation or conducting a hearing? Does this mean that the hearing is over and the teacher is waiting on the arbitrator’s decision? Whatever it is, judging from this passage, the case is not yet closed.

I am sure that, just like my colleague, Patricia Dawson was warned against talking about the case. So how did the NY Post get information about a case that is not yet resolved?

There could only be one answer: the DOE gave them the information.

Why is it that a teacher cannot talk about their case, but the DOE can?

It seems to me that the DOE is looking to put pressure on the investigators and/or arbitrator to make the “right” decision. And what is the “right” decision?

That’s right, termination.

If they are able to cause enough of a public uproar, the arbitrators will be pressured to make the decision that the DOE wants. All the while, the teacher is not allowed to speak out or give their side of the story.

This is just one of the many ways that the 3020a process is skewed against the teacher.

It is fitting that the article ends with a mention of Christine Rubino. As we have seen, Rubino was able to get her termination overturned in New York State Supreme Court, a decision that the DOE is currently appealing.

During Rubino’s hearing, the DOE made up charges as they went along. They added new charges not originally included as they went into her past and tried to find things they could twist out of context.

So while the DOE tried to scare teachers with a sense of gravitas about these termination hearings, the fact is that they are nothing more than kangaroo courts. While most teachers do not get fired, the vast majority are found guilty. Exoneration is rarely ever an option for a teacher brought up on the most frivolous of charges.

How much tax money is being spent on these hearings? How much money is being wasted on lawyering up so the DOE can fire someone for something they said on Facebook? In an age of supposed budget cuts where art and music are disappearing and schools are being closed, this waste of tax dollars should be a crime.

Our tax dollars, the hard-earned money of working people, are being spent to fire other working people. And if the DOE can fire these working people for such trivial things, it sets a nationwide precedent for employers across the country to do the same.

This is the twisted game Bloomberg’s Department of Education plays. To say it is unethical is an understatement. To say that it is underhanded falls short of the mark. This is pure evil done by people with no scruples and no sympathy for those who have to actually work for a living.

The 3020a process is in need of a major overhaul. Add it to the list of things for which our union should be fighting, but is not.