It's teacher hunting season!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

After the rubber room closings: essential procedure rights issues ignored by UFT, media

So, the city has agreed to close the teacher reassignment centers, also known as the rubber rooms.

They were a travesty upon the city, but not for the reason that "The New York Post" alleges.
They represented Soviet gulags right here in the United States.
Yet, in the talk about UFT president Michael Mulgrew and the press reports there is no talk of reform of the investigation procedures. The UFT last year passed a resolution saying that the New York City Department of Education investigations are frequently biased.

One wonders, what kinds of thoughts of regret of professional mission do partially conscientious DOE investigators have? Do they ever think to themselves: Am I serving justice by being a cog in such a biased, rigged system? Who could I speak with about this abusive system? Is this what I went to law school for?
The investigations are frequently biased. Investigators can interview a range of opinions, yet their default determination is that accusations are "substantiated." The DOE investigations, by the nature of the fact that DOE proceedings are fait accompli affairs, are really a test of the summoned teacher: how naive is the teacher? Since the teacher is not merely presumed, but determined to be guilty, the affair is of questionable benefit for the accused.
The proceedings are in sum a monkey court, a Stalin-style show trial, with the Department of Education and the various investigative offices constituting prosecutor, judge and jury.
These issues of procedure are of great significance. As Philip Nobile pointed out this week in a contribution at Education Notes, the accused in the murky DOE experience a pre-Magna Carta deficit of rights. Basic features of the Bill of Rights are withheld from accused teachers. The accused are not informed of the reason that they are reassigned. They are not allowed to know of their accuser. They cannot even see statements by opposing witnesses, even with the names redacted. They cannot pursue their own investigation. It is obviously a one-sided procedure. In the United States under standard rules of legal procedure each side in a legal proceeding is allowed to pursue their own investigation. In the real world each side is provided documentation of investigations. The investigation procedures are in a zone in which the accused teachers are denied their due process rights.
Our weak Mulgrew-lead UFT has done nothing in the past or in the new agreement to correct the general denial of due process in the entire procedure. And the UFT does not serve the accused well. As Nobile has pointed out, the UFT has a standing policy of denying the accused the right of getting a copy of the notes that the representative has taken in the proceedings with the investigators.
The media have uniformly done a incompetent job of reporting the rubber room procedure. In the absence of the UFT's addressing the systemic denial of due process, the abuse of teacher's due process rights will continue. The public, in the absence of a complete representation of the denial of basic legal procedures, will remain under the impression that the whole procedure is legally kosher, "Well, the Department of Education is headed by lawyers, surely they must follow correct legal procedure. This is America. Everyone always gets due process. The UFT was headed by a lawyer. Surely, they must be on top of the situation. So, all of those people in those rooms must get a fair and just judgment."
Closing agreement's curious timing
Let's hope that Justin Cegnar and Jeremy Garrett's "The Rubber Room" movie gets broader distribution. The film received a review at Education Notes.
It seems all-too-coincidental for the city to come to this agreement on the rubber rooms, just the day before the premiere of this film.

As to the deadlines of how long the city has to act before charging teachers, the question is will the city live up to the commitment? The city already has such deadlines, but the city has not kept to those commitments. The UFT knows of this and has not corrected the problem.
The closing of the rubber rooms a set-back?
In the closure of the rubber rooms, the mistreatment of the accused could get worse. Concentrating all of the accused in one place surely lead to some sharing of information of the limited rights that the accused have. The venue for information sharing among the accused is lost.
Remaining work for the UFT to do
The UFT needs to address the myriad of essential real world procedural rights-denied. The UFT needs to address the larger context of the rubber rooms. They have ballooned under the Bloom/Klein administration, as part of a pattern of principal intimidation of teachers. The UFT needs to have better education efforts, including brochures, for the accused. In sum, the UFT must have a more aggressive effort at correcting a general miscarriage of justice.


  1. NY1:

    I must disagree with you. The closing of the "rubber rooms" is a significant win for us. No longer can principals dump teachers in a room. Now the Administrators must seriously consider having too many teachers in their offices. Only the real serious cases will see the teacher removed from the school. The way it used to be.

  2. Chaz

    How does positioning the victim closer to the harrasser help the victim? I see more opportunities for principals to force retirements and resignations with this agreement.

  3. Chaz, I wish the closing of the rubber rooms would bring an end to the abuse of teachers.
    My core points are that there are essential points of due process that are violated in the reassignment procedure. "No longer can principals dump teachers in a room."? Nothing in the agreement spoke to the ease of bringing up ridiculous trumped up charges or retaliation against whistle-blowers.
    This closure of the rooms is disbanding a space for potential information sharing among the accused. Placing the accused in district offices is even more isolating. Remember, the term "rubber room" originally applied to solitary cells, which is closer to what the district offices would be like. As the anonymous poster wrote, this is placing the victim closer to the harasser.
    Speeding up the abuse of teachers is not a reform. This chancellor would not so easily make a significant reform.