Tag Archives: Christine Rubino

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:

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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.

The Human Cost of Teacher Bashing: The Christine Rubino Case

Readers of this blog are familiar with the story of Christine Rubino.

Rubino is a veteran teacher with 15 years’ experience in the Department of Education. In June of 2010, she was teaching at P.S. 203 in Brooklyn when she made the following comment on her Facebook page:

“After today, I’m thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts,”

The comment was made the day after a 12-year-old girl drowned at the beach on a class trip. A few days after making the comment, Rubino took it down from her page. Yet, the damage had already been done. A coworker of hers printed up the comment and showed it to the principal, who then called the DOE.

Since the comment came to light in June, it was not until the following September, after the new school year had begun, that an investigation was launched. Rubino was not pulled out of her classroom during the investigation and had no idea the DOE was conducting one.

It was not until after the DOE had completed their investigation that she was pulled out of her classroom to await a 3020a hearing. The DOE’s recommended penalty? Termination.

Rubino’s original, union-appointed (NYSUT) lawyer had advised her to resign at the outset of the hearing. Believing that this was not an incident that warranted termination, Rubino fired her union attorney and called in outside representation in the form of former NYSUT lawyer Brian Glass.

Sue Edelman of the New York Post had showed up to the hearing. It was her right, since Rubino requested to make the hearing open to the public, a right many NYSUT lawyers try to dissuade their clients from exercising. This raised the ire of the DOE, including the arbitrator assigned to the case, Ms. Randi Lowitt.

This is when the DOE decided to play hardball. Theresa Europe, head of the DOE’s Administrative Trials Unit, sat in on the hearing to stare daggers at the arbitrator. This is not the usual practice, Europe ostensibly having better things to do with her time than to concentrate on any single case.

Throughout Rubino’s ordeal, the DOE kept throwing on charges that had nothing to do with the original Facebook post. They tried to bring up an instance in 2008 when a student had assaulted Rubino, trying to twist it into a corporal punishment charge. Students who had been coached to testify in the most damning possible way for the DOE were tripped up during cross-examination. At least one of them was forced to admit “that’s what they told me to say”. The principal testified that Rubino was a wonderful teacher who never had a problem.

Most importantly, Rubino herself had expressed genuine remorse throughout the process. The fact that she had taken her Facebook post down a few days after writing it shows that she had felt bad for writing it. She testified that she regretted writing it. At no point did she stand by her words. She acknowledged that it was a statement made out of frustration, a place every teacher finds themselves every now and then.

After all of this, what punishment did Randi Lowitt decide upon? Termination.

We should stop here for some commentary.

It was about a year between the Facebook post and the notice of termination. That means a year of investigations, lawyers and substitutes to cover Rubinio’s class. All of this for a Facebook post that was taken down after a few days. Needless to say, it was a tremendous squandering of resources.

And who is this coworker who informed on Christine Rubino? A man who is currently awaiting his own 3020a hearing for abuse charges that could wind him up in prison. This is one of the seedy underbellies of school politics. There are informants in every building. Usually, the informants are those with lots to hide: either they are creeps or incompetent. They play the role of informant because that is what gets them through another year. It is the only role that they are able to play, one that shines the spotlight on others in order to take it off themselves. It is a system conducive to destroying good teachers while protecting the worst our profession has to offer.

Of course, these informants would not have any power if not for a principal who feeds into their informing. In my experience, most administrators are happy to have a few glad-handers and back-slappers on their staffs, ones who share gossip in hushed tones in the principal’s office.

And then there is the matter of what the principal did with this information. Despite the lines that principals run that they do not have a choice but to call in complaints to the DOE, there is always a choice. A human being with people skills might have called Rubino into her office, asked about the post and gave her a reminder of professional conduct outside of school hours. At the very worst, the principal could have given her a letter in the file. The transgression did not warrant anything more than some sort of in-house disciplinary action.

But the rumor mill reveals that principals are under strict orders from Tweed to call in any Facebook incidents that come to their attention. Of course, this still does not mean that the principal has to follow this directive. The DOE refuses to set a clear social media policy for teachers. They want to formulate policy through precedent and they want to set the strictest precedent possible. Bloomberg’s DOE, at the end of the day, is an entity that aspires to be corporate. They want to set a strict precedent for teachers in NYC because they know it will set a strict precedent for the teaching workforce throughout the country, not to mention the workforce in general. It is Bloomberg’s gift to corporations. He wishes to give employers nationwide more and more control over the lives of their workers.

This is why the DOE had Rubino’s verdict determined before she sat in front of a hearing officer. Even on the best of days, the 3020a process is skewed against the teacher. In those instances where the DOE already has their minds made up, the teacher’s fate is sealed. This explains Theresa Europe’s glowering presence and the final verdict that is just too ridiculous to be called anything close to fair.

Termination left Rubino without a livelihood. A career and a school that had defined her for 15 years, in which she had an unblemished record, were completely cut off. Rubino had to find a way to support her two children without any sort of financial support. She took to tutoring students in her neighborhood. She took to doing odd jobs here and there like focus groups. Still, it could not replace the salary she had achieved as a teacher of 15 years. She started falling behind on her mortgage. Eventually, she had to sell the house in which she lived with her two children. Before she had been terminated, she took out a massive loan against her retirement account. It was one of the only means she had to sustain herself and her children.

While all of this is going on, she was the subject of countless news columns, including Susan Edelman’s at the New York Post. Edelman brought a photographer with a telescopic lens to stalk 51 Chambers Street in order to catch a candid photograph of Christine Rubino. What is worse, in my opinion, than the half-baked and half-digested stories spit up by New York’s newspapers about teachers who face termination are all of the comments left by readers who say things like “fire her, she’s not fit to be around children”. It would be hard for me not to stalk the internet and correct every judgmental dimwit who thoughtlessly called for my head on a platter. I guess none of these people ever made a mistake or had a candid moment that, if discovered, might also lead them to lose their jobs.

But there was a lot of fight left in Christine Rubino. Knowing that the verdict she received was unfair, she did what more and more teachers are doing with the independent arbitrator’s ruling: she took it to court. By this point, most teachers are so beaten down that they cut their losses and find someplace to lick their wounds. Plus, traditionally, courts of law have been hesitant to overturn rulings by labor arbitrators for fear of weakening the integrity of the arbitration process.

Rubino hunkered down for another round of battle with the DOE, this time in front of the State Supreme Court and Justice Barbara Jaffe. Jaffe reviewed the details of the case, the hearing and of Rubino’s career. She deemed that the Randi Lowitt’s decision was “shocking to the conscience” of the court and vacated her decision. This type of thing is becoming more and more common in New York City. Rubino’s attorney, Brian Glass, wrote the following letter about this issue:

“This is the fourth 3020-a decision in which I have had the penalty vacated by judges in the last approximately two years. I also have had at least 3 Unsatisfactory annual ratings of teachers overturned in the same time period. Each decision has been by a different judge. I frankly was not optimistic about winning any of these cases. There appears to be a recognition by the courts that the 3020-a process as well as the U rating appeal process have become wrongly exploited as a weapon of the DOE gestapo that has sought to demonize teachers over relatively minor incidents. There also appears to be a recognition that these so-called “neutral due process” procedures for teachers are in reality not neutral at all, given the powerful financial incentives of the hearing officers to not risk their own livelihoods in such cases. Hearing officers who dare not to do the DOE’s bidding risk their livelihoods by not imposing overly harsh penalties that assuage the DOE bully prosecutors. Fortunately, there are judges in this country who are wholly independent of the DOE and are compassionate enough to understand the importance of due process in this democratic society as well as allowing individuals to learn and move on from their mistakes.

The DOE almost certainly will appeal this judge’s decision, invoke its automatic stay for 9 months, and tie up this case in litigation for the next year. Even if Ms. Rubino is successful on appeal, the DOE will seek to further delay her reinstatement by insisting on additional costly hearings and arguing that only the most severest of penalties must be imposed. The DOE and media outlets favorable to its present policies will also likely criticize the courts rather than the DOE prosecutors, claiming how outrageous it is that Ms. Rubino should get a second chance at restoring her career. Unfortunately she has a long road ahead in her quest to restore her livelihood and reputation.

The DOE did not need to elect to invoke the 3020-a process in this case. A simple warning to Ms. Rubino about her mistake would have sufficed, and this would not have been repeated. Perhaps in this time of scarce resources, the substantial time and money on this case could be better allocated by the DOE positively supporting its teachers in the classroom rather than demonizing and punishing its staff.”

Most recently, Peter Principe also got his termination verdict overturned after the same process of a biased hearing, media bashing and a deprived livelihood.

For Christine Rubino and Peter Principe, the war is not yet over. Barbara Jaffe might have overturned Randi Lowitt’s decision, but the DOE is sticking to its anti-teacher guns. Jaffe concluded that Rubino should have another hearing to find a lesser penalty. And the arbitrator for this hearing? Randi Lowitt.

Who knows how bitter Randi Lowitt will be after a judge has already vacated her first decision? She might give a lesser penalty, but it can still be a harsh one. She can exact any type of penalty she wants short of termination. It can be an unpaid suspension for a ridiculous amount of time or it can be a fine meant to drive Christine Rubino into the poor house once and for all. And who knows if she won’t have Theresa Europe in that hearing room glowering at her again to ensure she makes the right decision? If the details of these 3020a hearings prove anything, it is that the DOE cannot be trusted to honor its contract with the UFT with a fair hearing process.

Here is a novel idea for Randi Lowitt, Theresa Europe and the general public who want Christine Rubino’s head to roll: the woman has suffered enough. Her two children have been forced out of their home, she has had her name dragged through the mud and the public has put her under enough scrutiny to last a lifetime. For one human moment, a moment that she immediately regretted, Christine Rubino has been repeatedly pummeled into the ground. Much more than I, she is entitled to the moniker “assailed teacher”.

This is the human cost of the DOE’s war on teachers. These are the facts that they do not include in their notices of termination and press releases. All of us, no matter what we do for a living, are entitled to our mistakes. We are entitled to blow off steam and should have the ability to speak freely in whatever forum we choose. This not only goes for teachers, but for all human beings.

Employers across the country, whether public or private, exercise greater control over the lives of their workers than ever before. Not only do they own the labor of their workers for the time they are on the clock, they are coming to own everything their workers say and do in their personal lives. What used to be protected speech is increasingly being regulated by entities who do not work by any sort of Bill of Rights. In the case of Christine Rubino, they did not work from any sort of written policy at all. The rights of employers more and more are coming to supersede our most cherished democratic values.

This was the original purpose of “tenure” for teachers. They were supposed to be protected from frivolous allegations. Today they can you for letting off steam on Facebook. Tomorrow they can you for having the wrong political views, the wrong sexual orientation or the wrong color hair. There is something much more fundamental behind the war Bloomberg and Walcott have declared on the rights of teachers. It is more than corporate education reform. It is a war on our most fundamental American values, values for which people have fought for over 200 years.

What happens to one teacher happens to us all. What happens to one worker happens to us all.