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City moving to fire teacher who blogged his “rubber room” days

On his one-year anniversary today of being pulled from the classroom amid allegations that he had misbehaved, Francesco Portelos learned that a team of investigators had not substantiated any of the most serious allegations against him.

Then, he found out that the Department of Education is planning to try to fire him anyway.

Portelos, a teacher at Staten Island’s I.S. 49 who became famous for blogging and live-streaming about his experience in the “rubber room,” learned about both developments in his case from the press.

“The DOE has not contacted me at all,” he told GothamSchools. “The union has not contacted me.”

The report that Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon released today represented the conclusion of 35 separate allegations made by Portelos and his colleagues at The Berta Dreyfus School I.S. 49 against each other. Investigators found that Portelos might have violated city ethics rules by conducting personal business at school, but they determined that more substantial  allegations could not be substantiated.

They also did not find evidence to back up allegations that Portelos made against his principal, Linda Hill, or other administrators at the school. Hill first initiated the investigations when she complained to SCI that Portelos worked on his real estate business at school, had taken full control of the school website, and installed a pop-up on school computers.

Overall, the report paints the picture of a personality clash that spiraled out of control, with allegations that bordered on the absurd. At one point, to counter an accusation that he set a message, “Mr. Portelos’s class is fun,” to pop up on screens in a computer lab, Portelos “admitted that he had an image of an ostrich, with a picture of Portelos in its mouth, which acted as a block on the student’s computer screen,” the report says.

Condon referred his findings to the city’s Conflict of Ethics Board, which in the past has fined teachers thousands of dollars for mixing their side businesses with their work at the department, and to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Walcott will seek to fire Portelos, according to a spokeswoman, Connie Pankratz. “This type of behavior breeds mistrust and undermines the stability of schools,” she said.

Portelos said he would continue to document the department’s actions during 3020-a discipline hearings, if they indeed begin. The hearings, in which the city must prove its case against tenured teachers accused of wrongdoing, are closed to the press unless the teachers who are charged with misconduct open them up.

Already, the city has sunk tremendous resources into Portelos’s case. At least 10 investigators and an attorney at SCI handled the more than 35 allegations, which took almost a year and a half to investigate, according to the report. On top of investigation costs, taxpayers have also paid for Portelos’s salary for the past year while he was out of the classroom. (Sending teachers to rubber rooms where they are paid their full salaries cost the city $22 million in 2012.)

“The amount of man hours and taxpayer funds used for this investigation is probably astounding,” Portelos wrote on his website as he live-blogged his reactions to the report.

The complete report from Condon’s office is below.