Tag Archives: Facebook Teachers

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.


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.