indecency proposal

Bill would give city the right to fire teachers in sex abuse cases

State senator Stephen Saland (right) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg look on as Chancellor Dennis Walcott describes the reasoning behind a bill that would give the city decision-making power when teachers are accused of sexual misconduct.

A legal change that Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced he wanted in March now has a legislator standing behind it.

State Sen. Stephen Saland is sponsoring a bill that would give school district chiefs the right to fire teachers who have been found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with a student.

Under the current disciplinary process, once the city files charges against a teacher accused of misconduct, an independent arbitrators determines whether teachers have behaved inappropriately, and determine the punishment, no matter the offense.

This bill would create a new disciplinary process for the small number of teachers accused of sexual misconduct. The special process would send the arbitrator’s ruling back to school district officials, who could overrule it. The district would have the power to fire any teacher found to have engaged in sexual misconduct. Termination would be the default consequence, although the district could opt for a lesser punishment.

Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg announced the proposed legislation today at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence on the Upper East Side. Flanked by Saland, the superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools and several other representatives of state district superintendents, Walcott and Bloomberg said those who might oppose the legislation would be choosing to protect teachers over students.

“If city government can’t take care of them, I don’t know who is going to,” Bloomberg said about city students. “We are calling on the United Federation of Teachers to join us.”

But the union said it would need heed Bloomberg’s call. In a statement released during the press conference, UFT president Michael Mulgrew emphasized that the union has “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct that involves children. But he said the proposed legislation would erode due process for teachers without solving the underlying issues.

“Sexual misconduct involving children is a serious issue,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “Giving the chancellor — who has previously said that an accusation is not the same thing as a finding of guilt — the power to ignore the evidence and an arbitrator’s decision is not  an answer to it.”

Bloomberg criticized the union after a reporter read a portion of Mulgrew’s statement aloud.

“The teachers union is not there to protect our kids,” he said. “The teachers union is there to protect members of that union. They may use children as pawns, but the bottom line is, protecting the public is the obligation of the government.”

“If there’s going to be a mistake, I’d rather have it on the other side than on this side,” he added. “Our first responsibility is to our children.”

The bill announced today represents only a partial fulfillment of the city’s requests for more authority in teacher discipline cases. In 2011, Walcott went to Albany to ask legislators to change the teacher disciplining process by permitting the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to take over disciplinary hearings from the independent arbitrators.

Walcott called for the latest change in March after he reviewed 240 cases of school workers found guilty of misconduct this winter amid a string of high-profile sex abuse arrests of school workers. Walcott said the review revealed that the arbitrators who set punishments in teacher misconduct hearings sometimes determined that school workers were guilty of misconduct but that they should pay a fine, be suspended, or receive a letter of censure instead of being fired.

“I would like to have the ability, in these types of cases especially, to be the final decision-maker,” Walcott told reporters at the time.

Today he said he was unsatisfied with the outcomes of 24 of the cases he reviewed, and would like to have had the power to change the arbitrators’ decisions.

“The arbitrators are not the ones meeting with parents at the end of the day. The arbitrators are not the ones looking in the eyes of the students,” he said. “I’m the one interacting with the parents. I’m the one interacting with the students.”

Walcott said particularly galling were cases where city investigators had determined that misconduct had taken place but an arbitrator had downgraded the charge and issued only a slap on the wrist. In one such case, he said, the office of the Special Commissioner of Investigations found that a teacher took a 15-year-old student shopping and to the movies, and touched the student affectionately. The arbitrator permitted the teacher to return to the classroom after being fined $5,000, even though the arbitrator found the relationship between teacher and student was “overly personal, ill-advised and unprofessional.”

So far, the bill has no sponsor in the Assembly, where the Bloomberg administration has traditionally had a harder time winning support. But Bloomberg said today he expected Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver—who frequently supports the UFT—and his colleagues to “do the right thing” and support the bill.

“There were 12 cameras here,” he added as the press conference wrapped up. “Lady Gaga was the last one to get me 12 cameras at a press conference. This is something everybody cares about.”

The proposed legislation is below.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”