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Before last night's school board meeting, a termination 'inquest'

Among the contracts and school siting proposals on the agenda for last night’s school board meeting, one unusual item stood out — an “inquest on employee termination.”

The ominous event occurred behind closed doors before the public meeting, and officials would not say whose case was being heard. But they did explain that an inquest is one way for a teacher accused of incompetence or misconduct to be tried. The more common path is through a hearing before an arbitrator. An inquest is what happens if the teacher doesn’t request a hearing within 10 days of being charged.

During an inquest, a Department of Education attorney presents the city’s case to panel members, who come back with a final decision within a few weeks, said Claude Hersh, a lawyer with the state teachers union. Hersh said teachers or other pedagogical staff members under inquest do not have union lawyers representing them.

I didn’t receive a comment yet from school officials about the inquest process. But Hersh described it as an easy win for the city, which presents its case to a school board made up mostly of mayoral appointees. “The determination is always termination of employment,” Hersh said.

Hersh said that in past years, his office has received between five and 10 notices of inquests per year. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s appointee to the panel, confirmed that yesterday’s inquest wasn’t the first the panel has heard this year.

Typically, Hersh said, teachers who fail to request a hearing claim they never received notification of their charges, but the city rarely allows late requests for a hearing to be honored.

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