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Court ruling gives new hope to Teaching Fellows without jobs

The State Supreme Court in Manhattan today granted the United Federation of Teachers a preliminary injunction protecting 88 new teachers without permanent positions from being fired.

The Department of Education had planned to remove the teachers from the payroll last Friday in accordance with a contract the teachers signed when they joined the DOE’s Teaching Fellows program. But the union sued, saying that the Teaching Fellows contract wasn’t permitted under the terms of the UFT’s own contract. Last week, the UFT won a temporary restraining order that extended the Teaching Fellows’ paychecks until today, when the issue would get its day in court.

The preliminary injunction is an important step, but it’s not the end of the teachers’ limbo. The court’s decision today means only that the Teaching Fellows are protected from being fired until after an arbitrator has ruled on the matter, UFT spokesman Ron Davis told me.

If the arbitrator rules in favor of the DOE, the Teaching Fellows will lose their jobs, leaving them with no paycheck and only a few options back into the classroom. But if the arbitrator rules in favor of the UFT, the Teaching Fellows will stay on the DOE’s payroll.

Davis told me the union is “hopeful” that the arbitration will be complete within a week.

“We obviously believe that our position is the right one, and in this case the judge agreed that we should at least have the right to be heard,” he said.

The DOE plans to appeal the court’s decision, Michael Best, the department’s head lawyer, said in a statement.

Here’s the UFT’s full (and extensive) press release.

UFT Wins Preliminary Injunction Granting Reprieve to Teaching Fellows

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was granted a preliminary injunction in State Supreme Court in Manhattan today preventing the New York City Department of Education (DOE) from firing Teaching Fellows hired over the summer who did not secure full-time school assignments by December 5.

Teaching Fellows are college graduates who became educators in the New York City public school system through non-traditional routes – including leaving other careers – or who did not study education. They were heavily recruited over the summer by the DOE and The New Teacher Project – a national non-profit organization that has been paid $4 million over a two-year period by the DOE – because of their expertise and the life experience they bring to the classroom.

The UFT argued that the DOE was wrong to require the fellows to sign contracts that allow for their dismissal if they did not secure permanent school assignments by December 5. The unassigned fellows are serving in schools throughout the city as full-time substitutes or in vacancies or covering leaves of absence just like educators who lost their jobs due to school closings or changes in student rosters who now serve in an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

“The DOE was prepared to fire these educators just because it didn’t place them in permanent school positions,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We tried to work this out, but the clock was ticking. So we went to court because we wanted to give the arbitration process a chance to work. The court saw our point of view and gave these individuals a reprieve.”

The UFT filed a grievance earlier this fall on behalf of 130 fellows who had not been hired by a school by August 28. The grievance charged that the fellows are being improperly targeted for termination because the DOE contract the fellows were required to sign does not supercede the UFT collective bargaining agreement.

On December 4, UFT officials and attorneys filed papers at the courthouse at 60 Centre Street in Manhattan seeking an injunction in aid of arbitration to prevent the DOE from firing the 88 Teaching Fellows who had not found permanent classroom positions before the matter could be heard by an arbitrator. The UFT has also filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) opposing the firings.

“The DOE is always talking about the need to recruit quality teachers, but what message are they sending when they treat new educators like this?” Weingarten said.

Weingarten was named as the plaintiff in the court action against Chancellor Joel Klein and the DOE.

“It’s hard to get a job anywhere in this economy right now, but many of these fellows still gave up secure jobs in other professions to come and teach here in New York City,” Weingarten added. “Now after months of letting them fend for themselves and in the middle of this economic downturn, the DOE is ready to show them the door, and that’s just not fair. It’s just another case of gross mismanagement of human resources by the DOE.”

Teaching Fellows such as Michelle Murphy often complain that they get no support from the DOE in their efforts to secure permanent teaching positions.

“It’s almost impossible to go on interviews while working in a school every day until 4 p.m.,” Murphy said, adding, “The placement support is almost nonexistent.”

Murphy complained that there is no central employment database, which forces the fellows to make cold calls to schools to ask about openings.

“Once you are done with the training, the DOE cuts you loose,” Murphy said. “Then they send you a drop-dead letter reminding you – as if you forgot – that you will be unemployed on December 5.”

Another fellow, Yves Henri Cloarec, questioned why the DOE did not scale back its hiring of fellows this fall when it was aware of the number of excessed teachers who were unable to find permanent jobs in the system.

“Why would they continue to recruit new fellows when a current batch is still available, willing and eager to perform the mission they were hired to do?” Cloarec asked.

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