The United Federation of Teachers’ latest idea for stopping sex abuse in schools is “disingenuous shell game” aimed at protecting teachers who misbehave, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott charged in an unusual weekend letter to the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew.
The letter, released to the press Sunday afternoon, came in response to Mulgrew’s proposal that the city reexamine how it screens school workers as a strategy to curb a recent spate of sex abuse case. Mulgrew made the suggestion to members of the City Council on Friday.
But all school workers already go through a rigorous examination before they are hired, Walcott said, and what the city needs is more freedom to fire those who are found to have behaved inappropriately once they are working in city classrooms. Walcott has been arguing that point strenuously in recent weeks to push a bill that would give the chancellor, rather than independent arbitrators, the power to fire teachers in sex abuse cases.
The bill, which would affect at most a handful of teachers, has gained little attention in Albany and is unlikely to pass before the legislative session ends Tuesday.
In the letter, Walcott offers examples of four teachers with previously clean records whom investigators found guilty of inappropriate behavior between 2003 and 2008. The city moved to fire them, but after hearing the union’s defense, the arbitrators assigned to their discipline hearings issued only fines and suspensions.
“You wrote that the hiring process is the beginning — but that’s not where the responsibility ends,” Walcott wrote. “These disturbing cases undermine your assertion that students are sufficiently protected by both your supposed zero tolerance policy and the contract provisions.”
In response, Mulgrew said he was disappointed that the city would not be reassessing how it hires teachers.
“It’s a shame the chancellor is unwilling to look at the system’s hiring and screening processes, even if that would help protect the children of New York City,” he said in a statement.