Tag Archives: Patricia Dawson

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.