This week’s Anthony Weiner sex scandal had an odd side effect for the education policy debate in the mayor’s race. It caused AFT President Randi Weingarten to raise an issue that has been a thorn in the union’s side.
“So how can Anthony run for Mayor, when a teacher for the same conduct would be fired,” Weingarten said in a tweet yesterday.
She was referring to a push to tighten punishments for teachers found guilty of inappropriate behavior that the union here has opposed. Since 2007, the city has been unable to fire nearly 100 people working in schools for a variety of sexual indiscretions that range from verbal abuse to physical contact, according to the Daily News.
It’s a tiny fraction of one percent of the city’s 80,000-plus school staff, but a group of anti-union advocates have tried to make the issue a question in the mayor’s race, asking candidates if they support giving the city more power to fire people for sexual indiscretions.
Weiner is one of the candidates who hasn’t responded to a questionairre by the advocacy group pushing candidates to take a position on tightening the rules and his spokeswoman did not respond to GothamSchools’ questions. Getting caught for sending lewd pictures of himself to women is the type of behavior that would put Weiner in the city’s crosshairs if he were a teacher.
Union favorite Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, two opponents who have called for Weiner to resign from the race for his conduct, also did not respond to the questionnaire. They have not taken clear stands on the issues raised in the questionnaire.
Speaker Christine Quinn, who has not called for Weiner to resign, and Sal Albanese are the only Democratic candidates who have staked out clear positions. Both said they support legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers who have acted inappropriately with students.
“As a UFT member and former teacher, I’m a big believer in due process,” Albanese, who taught for 11 years, said in a statement. “But I also believe that we have to act as swiftly as possible to keep students safe. We need to change the law, because the current process simply isn’t accomplishing that goal.”
Of the three Republican candidates, Joe Lhota and George McDonald have also said they support the legislation. Republican John Catsimitidis and Comptroller John Liu, a Democrat, did not respond to the questionnaire and their campaigns didn’t respond to similar requests.
(See all of the candidates opinions on this issue: The Next Education Mayor)
At issue in the legislation is who should decide a teacher’s dismissal. Right now arbitrators have the final say in what constitutes “sexual misconduct” — which in the union contract is grounds for dismissal — and what the punishment should be if accusations are substantiated.
But the group of advocates, led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, says that final judgments should fall to the chancellor.
De Blasio “doesn’t support giving the City power to unilaterally fire a teacher based on allegations alone,” a spokesman said. But Brown said that isn’t what the issue is about.
“No one supports firing based on allegations alone,” Brown said in an email. “That is crazy. The question is what should happen when a teacher found guilty, but then [the] arbitrator doesn’t fire them.”
Brown points to instances where an arbitrator has allowed teachers to keep their jobs even after they were found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior. These include cases in which a teacher asked a student for a strip tease and called students “sexy,” respectively. Both times, they were not found guilty, even though the union contract’s definition of sexual misconduct, which includes “soliciting a sexual relationship” and “serious or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature.”
Brown also wants changes to the union contract that put in place “zero tolerance for inappropriate touching and sexual banter,” which she said would give arbitrators “less flexibility to make these bad calls.”
In three different statements sent by Thompson’s campaign, a spokeswoman said Thompson condemned teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct and said they should be fired.
“Bill Thompson believes that there is no room for discussion – anybody found guilty of sexual misconduct should be fired, nothing less,” the spokeswoman said in the third statement.
Asked about Thompson’s statement, Brown said he didn’t address the gray area that exists in the arbitrator’s interpretation of what “sexual misconduct” means, according to language in the contract. She said he was “trying to avoid the issue.”