It's teacher hunting season!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

NYC DOE Does Nothing in 6 Year Sexual Abuse of Teacher; $450,000 Settlement Reached

With the court cases piling up, the contention can be made that the New York City Department of Education is acting like a gangland organization, to the extent that it is singlemindedly acting with the prime directive to let no negative information be divulged. The result of this is a ruthless crushing of individual dignity of people seeking respect and safety on the job. Instead, they experience heart-breaking, health-threatening stress.

Case in point #1: Witness the case of the child relentlessly bullied at one elementary school on the Upper East Side. School authoritities did nothing. The parents sued to have the city pay for the child's private school education. See my post earlier, this summer, NYC Must Pay for Private School for Bullied Child; Will DOE Finally Act vs. Bullying?.

Case in point #2: Yesterday the New York Daily News broke an exclusive story, that a Brooklyn high school social studies teacher, Mississippi native, Theresa Reel. Students relentlessly subjected her to verbal and direct physical sexual harassment. No action by her supervisors. Thankfully, she has a nearly half million dollar settlement. But what is additionally sickening is that her supervisors remain in supervisory positions, still overseeing teachers, still able to retaliate again against teachers that dare to speak for their basic human dignity. (Keep posted to this blog as I update with highlights from Daily News reader comments.)

Where is the broad swath media reaction to this? DOE-type press releases read over the air at WNYC? David Gregory at NBC's Education Nation? Calls by politicians to go after bad administrators? Don't hold your breath. These cases are not aberrations, but actually symptomatic of the problems that arise from a system in which principals are punished for any negative statistics. The daily routine result?: Students can get away with anything and they know it. And principals can get away with anything. And the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers has never made a public pronouncement on the connection between the negative stats fear and the harassment toleration outcome, nor has the UFT made any campaign to push back against these rampant abuses. There had been some ocassional stories in the uion's New York Teacher newspaper on PINIs, Principals in Need of Improvement, but no campaigns. Note that Ms. Reel had to go with a private lawyer. Note also the comments on her case that appear on the Daily News site. (Check the end of this blogpost for highlights from the posted reader comments.) They evince the public animus towards to teachers, such as get a spine.

Moreover, it is disturbing how many commenters take the blame the victim, you asked for it attitude that the administrators took with her plight. It is a sad statement on the level of sexism in our society. It is immaterial what this teacher was wearing or what her body dimensions are. She had planned her suicide. And no wonder, her supervisors, who were duty-bound to come to her aid, did nothing. If she had followed through with her plans, blood would have been on their hands, by extension.

Before we go to the Daily News' important exclusive, take note of another abused teacher, Francesco Portelos. Betsy Combier's Rubber Room Reporter Gotcha Squad reported on his court case. Keep posted there.
Brooklyn teacher who says she was sexually tormented by students wins $450,000 settlement: Theresa Reel says students and staff at High School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg 'treated her like dirt.' She says students flung condoms at her and rubbed against her breasts

By Mark Morales, Ben Chapman and Tracy Connor, September 21, 2012 Read full story at the New York Daily News
A high school teacher who said she was sexually tormented by her students and then punished for complaining has scored a $450,000 settlement from the city. Theresa Reel, 52, who quit her job when she signed the deal, said the knowledge that she never has to set foot in the High School for Legal Studies again is just as sweet.

“I wasted six years of my life being treated like dirt — less than dirt,” Reel told the Daily News on Thursday. “I can’t put into words how happy I am.”

The Mississippi native started working at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, school in 2005 and within a month, her job was a nightmare.

In a lawsuit she filed three years later, she described how students called her filthy names, flung condoms at each other and even touched her breast.

Her pleas to school bosses were met with accusations that she showed too much cleavage, she charged.

When she told then-Principal Denise Morgan that she made a student leave the class for sexual comments, the official’s response was: “And how does that threaten you?”

Morgan defended her handling of Reel’s complaints. “I am very comfortable with the professional manner in which I responded to this teacher’s concerns,” she told The News.

After Morgan was replaced at the troubled school, the new principal, Monica Ortiz, gave Reel unsatisfactory ratings.

And a 2008 letter from the Department of Education chastised the social studies educator for “inappropriate attire,” described as a “low-cut, V-neck lace top.”

“It made me feel like I was worthless, like my own supervisors believed that I deserved to be treated like this,” Reel said at the Woodside, Queens, home she shares with her cat.

City officials declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
“The settlement was in the Department of Education’s best interest,” said Lawrence Profeta, a city attorney.

Reel’s court papers detail the barrage of X-rated insults she faced in the classroom and corridors.

One boy allegedly told her: “I’ve got rubbers — want to party?” Another student accused a classmate of performing a sex act on Reel for good grades, she said. She recalled one male student crossing a hallway so he could graze her breast with his elbow and then “smirk” at her.

“I was screaming,” Reel said.

She said the harassment made it impossible to function some days.

“Sometimes I’d break down on the subway,” she said. “I would go home, sit in front of the TV and cry.”

At one point, she said, she was suicidal.

“I had a plan in mind,” she said, without elaborating. “It got so black and bleak I couldn’t see it getting any better.”

The city tried to get the federal discrimination suit tossed out, arguing Reel did not prove the school was a hostile environment, that she was singled out for her gender, or that she faced retaliation.

On each count, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to let a jury decide and set a trial date for Sept. 10.

On Aug. 31, the city agreed to pay Reel $450,000 and remove the poor ratings from her record if she resigned.

“We think she had a very strong case,” said lawyer Joshua Parkhurst of Cary Kane LLP. “We ultimately agreed to settle because it allows our client to get on with her life.”

Reel has been on an unpaid leave of absence for a year, spending down her pensions savings. She’s been looking for a new job, but was even turned down for a cleaning gig.

DOE had no comment on the case.

Morgan, the former principal, is now an assistant principal at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Ortiz is still the head of Legal Studies, a D-rated school which had less than 60% of its students graduate in 2009.

Legal Studies made headlines in 2010 when teachers were caught taking a lavish, taxpayer-funded junket and students were busted for using cell phones to film brawls and sex acts.

Reel wasn’t the only person at the school who thought pupils were out of line. In a 2010 city survey, only 49% of the students said kids treated teachers with respect.

Read more at the Daily News
It is disgusting that we have a city government that enables sex abusers and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer costs and pay-outs to perpetuate the tolerance of the abuse.

And now the Daily News reader comments on Ms. Reel's case. In posting these I am not necessarily agreeing with every reader's comment below.
SHOFNER43 2 hours ago
Students that are ALLOWED to behave like this are being set up for failure. Definate boundries must be communicated to students and teachers and consequeces in place. There is a reason why so many private schools flurish in metro areas. Having taught in public, private and state schools, I understand why a third of the teachers leave the profession after five years. It's usually not dealing with the students, it's poor administration, a lack of respect for anyone over the age of 30 and negative role-model. The schools reflect our culture, so that should tell you someing.

BKLYN RAIN 5 hours ago
Good for her!!! I dont care what she was wearing it is disrespectful to put your hands on another personer, especially someone who is there to teach you, someone who cared enough about the future to try to prepare these knuckleheads and she is treated like a piece of meat. For those who wrote the stupid comments about her size, what if that were your mom, you sister, your wife?? R u saying it is ok to touch them if they are wearing a lowcut blouse, or when they are on the beach....seriously, it's never ok. My son is being raised to respect his elders as well as his educators, I will light that butt otherwise. Education needs to start in the home people.....

SHO-NUFF 6 hours ago
You need tough skin to teach in the NYC school system and she should have known that. What she said the kids did to her sounds like nothing big she could not handle. She seems like a cry-baby to me.

KDAZE10 5 hours ago
Students were touching her inappropriately....and throwing condoms at her. Calling a teacher names is one thing, but to actually touch and throw things at a teacher has nothing to do with her being 'thin-skinned' is straight harassment.

KDAZE10 6 hours ago
"kids will be kids"!? HOW is throwing condoms and suggesting hooking up to your teacher acting like a KID!? And, I'm pretty sure it works like this, the student EARNS the respect...not the teacher. Why should a teacher have to earn a student's respect first (regardless of their socioeconomic background)?  I agree that it needs to start at home, but it's not happening that way, and there is only so much a teacher can do. And, from what I've heard, class sizes are 30+ in some NYC schools, so while the teacher is beating their head against a wall trying to control the behavior issues of 3 students, the other 25+ are losing out on their education. Teacher's hands are tied when it comes to behavior issues in ALL schools, but due to over crowding in classrooms, it definitely tends to be much worse in the inner city.

Our education system has gone to hell in a hand basket.Teachers are too afraid to give little Johnny the F he deserves because his car will be torn up or he will be followed to where he lives and tormented so he gives the fool a D so that he won't have to see him again.I can't even imagine having to walk thru metal detectors or having a real police force within the school because of the depraved attitudes that prevade young people that are supposed to be there to get educated. And we wonder why we are falling further and further behind some countries in math and science.It's sad, good luck to her I know it must have been hell.

SPACEENGNYC 8 hours ago
As CoolnRelax commented, Good discipline starts at home. Violent Savages are born from and raised by Violent Savages. Satan breeds little Satans. It won't matter how good the teachers may be, when the Barbarians they teach are Violent Savages. You can take the Monkey out of the jungle, But... These Savages grew up in broken drug addicted "homes" out-of wedlock with their welfare queen mothers calling their fathers "their man". Meanwhile, "their man" has 1,000 other biatches calling him "their man" with more babies they squeezed out and can't feed. It's a vicious cycle. Those puppies will breed drug addicted Welfare Kings and Queens of their own. 
"coolnrelax - 'good discipline starts at home, if these kids dont have it, then teachers can't instill it in them, it's up to the parents, my sons graduated back in 08, and every time i see one of their teachers from high school, they complimented me on their discipline, i didn't play around, again these parents need to take responsibility for the actions of some of these students. '

MIMI5 9 hours ago
she deserves no money for not having control of her class, loser. go be a librarian

ATTILLA 9 hours ago
The unfortunate experience of Ms Reel exposes one of the chief flaws of the american public education system. There is a profound lack of discipline. Teachers are not allowed to have control of their classrooms. The students need not respect the teachers and face no consequences when they don't. In essence, the students are the ones with the power in the classroom; the teachers are powerless. Then everyone wonders why the children are graduating as functional illiterates. There could never be learning without discipline. The very word discipline means learning. America spends more on public education than than practically all the other industrialized nations. Yet it remains at the bottom in academic achievement. What is the problem, then? It's not the money. It is not that other kids are smarter than our kids. It is our attitudes toward education-- from the parents to the administrators. Kids who do not want to learn should not be in a classroom. They tend to be the thugs and while they are not the majority, they tend to disrupt the entire classroom. There must be a way to remove them forthwith. It is better to have 50% of a class performing proficiently than have none at all. Because that's what happens when the thugs are allowed to take over the classroom. 
If you look at other countries that are successfully educating their children, there is one common denominator. There is a system of discipline. Could you imagine that in China or Korea the kids are ruling the teachers and the teachers have no backing from the administration? It would never happen. Is there any surprise that the Asians are emerging as the leaders in educating their youth? of course not.

Well said! You obviously, are there, or have been there...Having written that, it is very strange that this pedagogue, got such a settlement, when other teachers have to deal with similar situations, and there is never even a thought of a lawsuit!

DELINDA 10 hours ago
Here we have it in a nutshell; the conditions many teachers face in the classroom in New York City. First, the insulting behavior and the general lack of school readiness that permeates much of the school population. Secondly, the incompetant and blaming administrations that attack the teacher before addressing the real issues of student misconduct, mostly because administrators don't have a clue as to how these problems are solved, but greatly because they get away with simply blaming a teacher. In the climate that currently exists within New York City, any excuse to berate a teacher is pounced upon, thanks to the man who has control of the system. Besides from the designer schools that have been created to showcase the success of this mayor's policies, the rest of the system is in a shambles. This article describes it well.

INTRIGUE 8 hours ago
I've read a few of your comments and I don't know why you think complaining about being treated disrespectfully is on par with not having a backbone. She does have a backbone, she reported it and when the principal blamed her she didn't take it and quit her job, she pursued her legal rights. Teachers have very limited recourse when it comes to what they say and how they punish students and you know that. Blaming the victim of a crime is pretty pathetic. You sound exactly like that AZ judge who told the victim of a cop who groped her that if she just stayed home it wouldn't have happened to her.

NUYORKER4LIFE 10 hours ago
To writer sho nuff, nobody has to have tough skin to teach or live in New York kids need to be respectful of their teachers and adults alike you sound like an idiot when you say she should grow thick skin how about get rid of the little disrespectful monsters out of our schools and let their lowlife parents if that's the case home school these lil terrors why should a complete stranger have to deal with someone else's problem child or better yet let's put them in a class with sho nuff and see how long this idiot lasts.

GINAS13 10 hours ago
There is a lack of respect that students have for teachers and it reflects back to our society. It used to be that if your child got in trouble you believed the teacher and were horrified that your child misbehaved. In this modern society the child is always right and the teacher is wrong. Now there certainly are bad teachers, we have all had them, but what does this teach our children? It explains the problems we are already having with these "helicopter" children becoming adults and thinking the deserve $100,000 right out of college and have no other ambition. These principals are all out for themselves and not the children or teacher's concern. The DOE needs am major overhaul. So does many of the parents these days too. Also, if she has been told to wear less cleavage then she should have done that. Teachers should leave that dress for their personal time.

My sister-in-law has taught in some of NYC's fine schools, and experienced harassment and hostility from principals like the Morgan and the Ortiz in this story when she has tried to seek disciplinary action against some of the thugs and thugellas she has to deal with, including incidents exactlly like those experienced by this teacher. Partly it is about trying to avoid accumulating disciplinary statistics for the school, but it is also about not being part of the club.

SLICK SKILLET10 hours ago
In my opinion, when student's misbehavior crosses a certain line, the teacher and/or principal of the school should be able to expel them....PERMANENTLY. End of discussion. A school could then rid itself of all its hard core "problem students" in an afternoon and get back to teaching and learning.

ARCIFERA 11 hours ago
She should have opted for a trial and put the entire school in the public eye. She deserved 10 times that settlement. Most poor performing schools escape the axe by tutoring students on passing tests with more than average scores. They graduate and the school gets more federal dollars. They are in effect, turning out dummies who enter college without a clue.

POUNCEUMA 12 hours ago
I believe her story. I went to school in the boroughs and the kids get out of control and the administrators can't do anything about it. I'm glad she was able to get something out of the city.

IMRIGHT 12 hours ago
The principals should be fired since they did not handle her complaint the correct way. And who raises kids to act in this manner? Parents, take responsibility for the way your child acts towards others. Parents should be held responsible for their child's actions.

BOOMBOOMPOW 12 hours ago
Amazing that Denise Morgan defends her actions (that is, if this story accounts the truth properly)…

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