Will the failure to file a notice of claim in an Article 78 challenge to a probationary termination doom the proceeding?

Yes. While not required for most Article 78 proceedings a notice of claim is required when a petitioner seeks to annul the determination of a school district terminating her services as a teacher. The Court of Appeals found that it did not matter that the teacher’s claim for back pay was incidental to her petition to reverse the school district’s determination. Education Law Section 3813 (1) does not distinguish between equitable and positive law claims for the notice of claim requirement for Article 78 proceedings to reverse a probationary termination.
In the Matter of ELIZABETH MCGOVERN, Appellant, v. MOUNT PLEASANT CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent. No. 74., 25 N.Y.3d 1051 (2015) 33 N.E.3d 1280 12 N.Y.S.3d 11, 2015 NY Slip Op 04675,  Court of Appeals of New York. Argued April 28, 2015.
Decided June 4, 2015.

Will the Court permit a probationary termination where the deficiencies in the performance review process were not merely technical but undermined the integrity and fairness of the process?

No. Petitioner was hired as a probationary special education teacher. During the first two years of her three ­year probationary period, she had an exemplary record, receiving satisfactory ratings and several letters of commendation. In her third year, on November 20, 2012, petitioner participated in an annual review meeting concerning a special education student in her fourth ­grade class. At the meeting, petitioner opposed the position taken by the school’s special education coordinator and sided with the student’s mother, who had asked that her son be removed from the “Alternate Assessment” program favored by Principal Jennifer Jones ­Rogers .

The very next day, November 21, 2012, the principal conducted the first formal observation of petitioner for the 2012­-2013 school year. On November 26, 2012, after a post-­observation conference, the principal issued an observation report that found petitioner’s math lesson unsatisfactory because: (1) “[she] did not model for children what [she] expected them to do”; (2) “[her] lesson did not address the problem [she] presented for students to solve”; (3) “[she] did not incorporate rigor in [her] lesson effectively”; and (4) “[she] did not include accountable talk structures in [her] lesson.” The report advised petitioner that a “log of support” would be put in place for her “to grow [her] practice and move toward attaining satisfactory performance.” Petitioner submitted a written rebuttal in which she stated that she had conducted the lesson in the exact manner that the principal had outlined in their pre-­observation conference and that the post-­observation conference focused more on the principal’s dissatisfaction with the position petitioner had taken at the Annual Review than on the math lesson in question.

On February 21, 2013, Assistant Principal (AP) Scott Wolfson conducted a formal observation of another of petitioner’s math lessons . The post­-observation conference was not held until April 16, 2013, at which time petitioner was given an observation report that rated the lesson unsatisfactory because: (1) “[w]hile the children within your group were able to solve the problems that [she] presented to them, it was evident that their solutions indicated algorithmic solution strategies rather than a deeper conceptual understanding of the problems”; (2) “[s he] failed to provide opportunities for [her] students to discuss their mathematical thinking with each other”; and (3) the questions that she posed “[did] not serve to develop children’s conceptual understanding of mathematics, which should be our goal.” The report advised petitioner that “[a]s a result of this lesson, we will continue to implement a log of assistance in order to support you in our mutual goal of attaining a satisfactory rating.”

Petitioner submitted a rebuttal stating that “[t]he fact that m y [special education] students were able to solve the word problem s with algorithmic solution was a huge accomplishment for my students who entered the fourth grade far below grade level” and that “Mr. Wolfson wanted to concentrate on the fact [that] the students struggled with conceptualizing their understanding of mathematics , which was not the goal for my lesson plan for that day.” Petitioner added that “Mr. Wolfson and I also planned my lesson together two days before and [he] never mentioned that he wanted to observe how the students conceptualize math.”

Meanwhile, on April 10, 2013, petitioner received a “Summons to Disciplinary Conference” from Principal Jones ­Rogers . On April 18, 2013, after a conference was held, the principal and the AP issued a letter advising petitioner that: (1) “[s he] failed to suggest appropriate modifications to [her] students ‘IEP’s to support their academic needs “; (2) “[i]n the case of [E.G.], [she] failed to provide [E’s ] parents with a promotion in doubt letter”; and (3) “[she was ] negligent in [her] attention to the records and reports required of [her] in [her] capacity as special education teacher.”

On April 22, 2013, petitioner received an overall U­ Rating for the 2012-­2013 school year, even though her performance was rated satisfactory in 14 of the 22 categories considered. The rating form contained a signature by the principal, dated January 19, 2013, recommending “[petitioner’s ] dis continuance of probationary service.” It also contained a signature by the district superintendent, dated January 22, 2013, adopting the recommendation. On April 24, 2013, petitioner received a revised U­ Rating that changed the date of the principal’s and district superintendent’s signatures to April 22, 2013.

The Department of Education discontinued petitioner’s probationary employment as of May 29, 2013, a month before the school year ended. In June 2013, petitioner sought to review her personnel file and discovered that all of her satisfactory written formal and informal observations from the 2010-­11 and 2011-­12 school years were missing. On October 8, 2013, Principal Jones ­ Rogers resigned.

The Appellate Division, First Department found petitioner’s termination and U-rating highly suspicious. The assertion that, after the first observation, the petitioner and the principal discussed the petitioner’s IEP opinion was not refuted at the review hearing. Additionally, petitioner was given no time to “improve her performance” after a long delay in receiving feedback about her performance.

The Appellate Division also noted, in a footnote that “Two months before her resignation, parents, teachers, students and a state senator had held a rally to protest Principal Jones-Rogers’ policies, which allegedly included retaliating against teachers who disagreed with her and cramming students into special education classes without parental consent”

The petition was granted and the matter sent back to the DOE for further proceedings.

2016 NY Slip Op 03454. IN RE LESLIE TAYLOR, Petitioner-Appellant, v. CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., Respondents-Respondents. 718, 100383/14. Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Department. Decided May 3, 2016.

Will the failure to provide mandated pre-observation conferences require that a U-rating be reversed?

No. While there have been some lower courts which have held that the DOE’s own Manual of Pedagogical Observations acts as a rule or regulation which must be followed, the Appellate Division, First Department has held that observations, which normally require pre-observation conferences, are not required for a U-rating to be sustained.

In re Kameisa Richards

Will a probationary termination be upheld where a Chapter Leader, on probation, first started getting unsatisfactory reviews after she wrote a letter to the principal?

No. While it is a bit unusual that a probationer would accept the position of Chapter Leader such a decision was made by a Staten Island teacher. The teacher had performed and was rated satisfactorily up until she wrote a letter to the principal asking how she could make up prep periods. At that point the principal began rating her unsatisfactorily.

Both the Supreme Court and Appellate Division, Second Department found that the teacher’s probationary dismissal was in bad faith and reinstated her with back pay.

The Supreme Court had granted the teacher tenure which the Second Department found was something the Courts could not legally do and sent the matter back to the DOE for further proceedings.

 In the Matter of Lisa Capece, etc., respondent, v Margaret Schultz, etc., et al., appellants. (Index No. 80361/08), 2012-03257, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3775; 2014 NY Slip Op 3834, May 28, 2014

 

Can a teacher, covered by a collective bargaining agreement maintain an action pursuant to Civil Service law 75-b, the Whistleblower’s Law?

No. Michele Ehrlich, an ESL teacher at PS 79 in Whitestone until her probationary termination in July 2011, complained to several DOE departments and some private advocacy groups about a violation of an IEP of one of her students. After her termination she claimed she was covered by the Whistleblower’s Law Section 75-b. (A federal claim concerning her free speech rights was dismissed in a federal action that had been removed to that court by the DOE).

Acting Justice Ellen M. Coin ruled that Ehrlich could not maintain her action under the Whistleblower’s law since she was covered by the UFT contract and was required to exhaust her remedies available under the grievance procedure before she could commence an action.

Ehrlich v. DOE (November 7, 2013, Decided)

Will the failure to note a previously observed deficiency in a subsequent observation annul a U-rating?

Yes. Aisha Brown, a long time paraprofessional turned teacher was still on probation when she received a U-rating for the 2009-2010 school year. While her petition for reinstatement was denied due to its being untimely the part of her petition seeking to annul her U-rating was timely.

The Appellate Division, First Department found that following Brown’s first year as a probationary special education teacher in 2008-09, she  received a satisfactory rating and also received a satisfactory review for her teaching during the summer 2009 session. Brown was not assigned a coach until the third month of the 2009-2010 school year, and the principal informally observed her teaching for the first time at the end of January 2010, the day after she had asked for help and complained that her literacy coach was ineffective. Pursuant to the principal’s January 28, 2010 observation of her literacy class, Brown received a written evaluation generally criticizing her for failing to have a daily lesson plan. The principal formally observed petitioner’s literacy lesson on March 2, 2010, and again rated it unsatisfactory, but, she was not provided with the post-observation written evaluation until June 7, 2010. The report listed a litany of criticisms, none of which centered on the deficiencies noted in the informal observation. Brown was again formally observed by the assistant principal on June 16, 2010, and the written evaluation, provided to her on June 24th, noted many of the same deficiencies indicated in the June 7th report.
The principal issued the 2009-10 annual professional performance review on June 22, 2010, rating petitioner unsatisfactory for the year, and recommending discontinuance of her probationary employment.

Brown’s initial application for reinstatement and reversal of her U-rating was denied by New York County Supreme Court Justice Alexander W. Hunter, Jr. The Appellate Division reversed her U-rating finding that Brown initial deficiencies were not noted in subsequent observations and her final observation was not received until more that 3 months had elapsed making “the deficiencies in the rating of petitioner were not merely technical, but undermined the integrity and fairness of the entire review process.”

In re Aisha Brown (11/7/2013)

Is a probationary teacher who received a U-rating required to exhaust all administrative remedies before appealing to Court?

Yes. Leonette Belfield worked for over 10 years as a paraprofessional when she entered the DOE’s program, “Pathways to Teaching,” to become a teacher in 2006. She received 3 consecutive S-ratings and was given a U-rating for the 2009 to 2010 school year and terminated. (It is not clear why Belfield was still on probation during her fourth year teaching).

Deciding not to wait until her U-rating appeal was decided by the Chancellor, Belfield commenced a proceeding seeking reversal of her U-rating and reinstatement. It was undisputed that Belfield did not exhaust her administrative remedies.

Without deciding on the merits Justice Barbara Jaffee dismissed her application relying on Belfield’s failure to wait for the Chancellor’s decision in her U-rating appeal.

In the Matter of the Application of: LEONETTE BELFIELD, Petitioner, -against- JOEL KLEIN, as the Chancellor of the Department of Education of the City of New York, CITY OF NEW YORK, and NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents. For a Judgment pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. Index No. 114094/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31862U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3389, July 1, 2011, Decided

Observation: The decision and supporting documents do not reveal answers to some important questions about the case. Although the Court wrote, in its decision, that Belfield had requested reinstatement, this was not requested in her petition. It is not clear when Belfield was terminated but generally a proceeding to challenge a probationary termination has a four month statute of limitations measured from the effective date of termination. To challenge the U-rating and the subsequent placement on the DOE’s ineligible list requires filing the proceeding in Court within four months of the Chancellor’s decision in the U-rating appeal which did not occur at the time of the filing of Belfield’s petition.