Stories & Grievances
Teachers Are Easily Sabotaged When a Principal Wants To Get rid of Them: La Guardia High School and Brooklyn Technical High School
Union protection of teachers has been criticized as not allowing bad teachers to be fired. However, if a Principal of a school or a Superintendent wants to get rid of a teacher or even an Administrator, for that matter, they can remove this person quickly and there is nothing the victim can do. The New York City Department of Education is a secret government that rallies its' forces against anyone who can, or may whistleblow what is actually going on in the hallways of Tweed Courthouse, or City Hall. Parents are thrown away just as easily, as the story of Booker T Washington shows. The system works very well to silence anyone who would speak out because there is no "other version" of allegations allowed to be heard. The DOE makes an allegation, for example, that a parent has stolen money, and then the Office of Legal Services and Office of Special Investigations conduct a "secret" investigation that they will not divulge, because it is "confidential". Then these DOE employees use the confidentiality of their investigation to railroad the parent, teacher, or whoever, out of the system. There is, indeed, no due process for the victim. This is the main reason why the NYC Department of Education has been able to continue to keep the budget books away from public scrutiny, and why they have been allowed to work behind closed doors. Even asking for a budget can cost you your job, can hurt your child, or defame you.
The attacks on whistleblowers is a national strategy, used against parents and teachers with the agreement, in many cases, of the courts.
Examples of teacher abuse are:
Neil Lovinger, a Special Education teacher at Booker T. Washington MS 54, left the school in June 2002 to move to California. He had good recommendations from all the staff at Booker T.
Gabriella Burman called him to get information on her article for Resident on Betsy Combier's Whistleblowing the misallocation of funds in November 2002 and he told her that the teachers loved Betsy because "She was the first PTA President who went around giving teachers $100...that was pretty cool". When Neil returned to New York city in 2003 he went on a job interview for a position teaching special education at a public school in the Bronx. His interviewer was very happy to have him as a candidate for the position, until he said "Wait a minute. I cannot hire you." Neil asked why, and the interviewer turned the computer towards Neil so that he could read what was on the screen:
"This person cannot be hired". Neil left, went to Booker T and UFT Rep George Caulfield, who did not know what this was about. Principal Larry Lynch and Deputy Superintendent Eleanor Jakubovich for District 3 came to an Impartial Hearing, and said that there was nothing in Neil's history that would imply his being unfit to teach. Neil has hired a lawyer, but the Corporation Counsel has not allowed him to have a hearing on his blacklisting. He still has no information on why the NYC DOE is keeping him from getting a job.
At Brooklyn Technical High School, Principal Dr. Lee McCaskill is at war with his teachers, and many of the students. Dr. McCaskill destroyed 4000 copies of the student newspaper, cancelled a robotics club trip an hour before the team was to board the plane, and has so alienated teachers that they have asked for several union conciliation hearings just to resolve issues such as book selection. Teachers are leaving the school on their own, because once a criticism of the Principal is aired, suddenly their lives are changed. Excellent teachers quickly find unsatisfactory ratings in their file, and that they are unable to get access to the auditorium.
In October, 2002, "John Doe" (name hidden for confidentiality), a beloved teacher at Fiorella La Guardia High School in New York City, and a tenured teacher for 18 years, was escorted quickly out of his Freshman English class by three security guards. All the children in the room were concerned, nervous and frightened about what had happened. Some called their parents crying, others waited to break down until they reached home that evening. The parents of these students called PA Executive Board members and a few others in the school, and the story that was pieced together was this:
A boy in the class wanted to leave the school, but his mother would not let him drop out. So, he decided to get John fired, and then the other students at La Guardia would be so angry at him that his mother would allow him to leave the school. In fact, this boy boasted to all the other students that he was going to do this, and then wrote a letter to Manhattan High Schools Superintendent Welton Sawyer telling him that John had spoken about his mother in a bad way. Interim Principal Kim Bruno or Assistant Principal Bill Stevens, according to Mr. Sawyer, ordered security guards to pick John up in class.
At a meeting with 11 parents a few days later, Mr. Sawyer denied giving the order to the security guards to remove John in the middle of class. At this meeting the 11 concerned parents gave Superintendent Sawyer letters written by all the students in the class asking for John's return to the classroom immediately. He told The E-Accountability Foundation and the other parents, including Charles Thompson, La Guardia PA President, that he could not do anything, and that it was now in the hands of the Office of Special Investigations. But he said that he could give us a related piece of information: several years ago there was a teacher at another school who was very loved by everybody, and then it was revealed that he was having sex with one of his students and was a sexual pervert. We were all stunned. One parent then asked whether he was telling us this so that we could infer this was the situation with John? Mr. Sawyer said yes. John has consistently denied any improper actions against any student, ever. All the parents we have spoken to trust in John's honesty and integrity. They all want John back as a teacher at La Guardia.
We immediately asked the Office of Special Investigations to give us the basis for their investigation.
Below is one of our letters from a parent/lawyer to Mr. Thomas Hyland, Office of Special Investigations:
Thomas Hyland December 12, 2002
Deputy Director, Office of Special Investigations
Department of Education
65 Court Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
via U.S. mail and facsimile
RE: Mr. John Doe's unjust removal from La Guardia H.S.
Dear Mr. Hyland,
This communication is written on behalf of parents of students of Mr. John Doe, an English teacher at La Guardia High School of Performing Arts. Attached to this letter is a letter that has been sent to Mr. Welton L. Sawyer, superintendent of Manhattan High Schools, who was kind enough to meet with a group of us parents on Wednesday, December 11. Also herewith is a document prepared by J, a student in Mr. Doe's honors creative writing class, who obtained statements of many of Mr. Doe's creative writing students. The document provides information about Mr. Doe, his accuser, and the means by which Mr. Doe was removed from his classroom on Wednesday, Nov. 27.
The parents have delegated to me the responsibility of forwarding this communication to you.
We wish to emphasize our strong objection to Mr. Doe's removal from the classroom pending the investigation of a complaint that was filed against him. We believe grave damage has been done to our children as a result of Mr. Doe's removal, and additional harm is caused each day he is absent from the classroom. The damage is detailed in our letter to Mr. Sawyer. We feel this continuing injury to our children outweighs any potential harm of his remaining in the classroom pending the resolution of the complaint.
Everything that occurs in Mr. Doe's classroom is, to our knowledge, designed to further the pedagogical aims of the particular class being taught. His teaching methods and interaction with our children are tone-setting and motivational, in essence part and parcel of the educational setting. Certainly our children's experiences with Mr. Doe lead us parents to believe that the lively interchanges which we know occur within the classroom are benign and successful from an instructional standpoint.
We fail to see how a teacher such as Mr. Doe could be removed from our children without a more formal inquiry into the circumstances alleged in the complaint. To our knowledge, the complaint contained allegations which concerned an incident, or incidents, which occurred solely within the classroom. In such circumstances, one might posit that a teacher should never be removed from the classroom on the strength of a single student's complaint.
Please forward our concerns to the investigator of this matter. We want the investigator to speak to our children immediately. In addition, many of us have sent letters to the principal of La Guardia and/or to Superintendent Sawyer, with specific examples of how John Doe has assisted our children. Please let us know if we should forward these letters to you.
Finally, we urge you to take seriously the information contained in J's document. Certainly, his commemoration of his and other students' information about Mr. Doe and his accuser should carry weight equal to the information in the accuser's complaint.
We would appreciate your contacting us, to let us know if there is any other specific person, or departmental entity, to whom we should address our demand that Mr Doe be returned to his classroom.
Mr. Doe should be reinstated immediately.
They refused, saying that their work was confidential. A poster was found at La Guardia High School soon after, asking any student to come forward with any allegation against John. According to the final report of the Office of Special Investigations, a girl did come forward with an allegation that John had touched her leg two years earlier in his office, and there were no other witnesses. She had received a bad grade from him.
John was placed into a holding room at the Manhattan Superintendent's office at Martin Luther King Jr. High School., across the street from La Guardia. One day he walked out of MLK and saw some La Guardia students, and he started to talk with them. Mike Racanelli, Deputy Superintendent for Manhattan High Schools, immediately banned John to a DOE office downtown, saying he (John) was forbidden from talking with any La Guardia students. John was ordered to attend a 3020A hearing at which he was forced to sign his resignation. He has been told that he will never teach again, and has no health insurance or benefits from his 18 years as a tenured teacher at La Guardia High School. He is newly married and the father of a son, and still believes, as do the parents of La Guardia High School, that this was a witch hunt to remove him from the school.
May 4, 2004
To Whom It May Concern:
John appealed his case this spring to the NYS Department of Education to have his state license renewed and upgraded (from provisional to permanent.) This appeal caused the state investigators to conduct a "thorough and independent review" of the employment action taken by the city Department of Education against him last year. In granting Mr. Doe his permanent certification, the state investigators cleared him of all charges in connection with the city's investigation and prosecution. Bart Zabin, the states' investigator, supervising all "moral fitness" cases, found that the students' only serious allegations were "unsupported by any credible evidence.", the city investigators' behavior was "disturbing in that they seemed aggressively dedicated to find probable wrongdoing in the absence of evidence", and the Department of Education carried out a removal of a valuable teacher and a prosecution for termination in a case where, even if the teacher were guilty as charged, "a counseling memo would have been more than sufficient discipline".
In other words, Mr. Doe has been exonerated by the State of New York. His friend, Carmen Farina, now Deputy Chancellor for the New York City public school system, finally came through with an appropriate solution, with Peter Heaney, Superintendent of Region 9.
Not everyone - in fact, almost no one - is so lucky.