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

Can a U-rating be reversed when a teacher is disciplined for protected activity?

Yes. The Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act codifies public employee labor relations in New York State. The statutory framework provides for a Board to oversee the public employee labor relations and has certain powers to protect public employees engaged in Union activity termed protected activity.

Rodriguez taught at P.S. 173 and for 32 years “had an unblemished record.” He was also the Chapter Leader at the school and had never filed a grievance on his behalf. In April 2010 he submitted a preference sheet and was not assigned his preference. He filed a grievance.

Rodriguez alleged that, as a result of his grievance, he was subjected to an excessive number of classroom visits and observations including 58 unannounced “pop-in” visits. After the filing of a second grievance regarding lesson plans Rodriguez was subjected to still further scrutiny.

Additional animus was evident from the filing of a disciplinary letter to Rodriguez file and rating him with a U-rating.

Rodriguez appealed to PERB where he demonstrated the anti-union activity bias. AlJ Elena Cacavas ruled that the DOE had violated the act and ordered that the disciplinary letter and unsatisfactory rating be rescinded.

Rodriguez v. DOE

Will a U-rating stand when one of three negative incidents is based on a finding determined to be arbitrary and capricous?

No. David Deutsch, a highly respected physics teacher at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics received a U-rating from his supervisor based on 3 separate incidents. Two of the incidents involved cursing and aggressive behavior and failure to follow a directive when asked to go to a department meeting. The incident involved an allegation that Deutsch failed to follow school protocol for notice in requesting a personal day off.

While the Chancellor’s representative, Shael Polakow-Suransky, affirmed the principal’s U-rating he wrote that Deutsch has failed to show professional growth.

Deutsch appealed. Justice Michael D. Stillman found that the first two incidents were valid but that the third incident must be dismissed because it was arbitrary and capricious that Deutsch was to follow a protocol in requesting a personal day when, in fact, such policy was not shown to exist. Additionally when Polakow-Suansky affirmed the U-rating there was nothing in the record to demonstrate any opportunity for Deutsch to show professional growth nor were any opportunities offered. The U-rating was annulled.

Deutsch v. NYCDOE (11/7/13)

Will the failure to appear at a U rating appeals proceeding, without explanation, of an immediate supervisor, defeat the DOE’s motion to dismiss a petition to reverse a U rating?

Yes. Paul Bridgwood, a 34 year veteran mathematics teacher with the GED PLUS program at the Jamaica Learning Center site in Queens, New York, brought a petition to reverse a U-rating for the 2010-2011 school year.

During this school year he was assigned to teaching for which he had no certification. He was observed by Assistant Principal Dannette Miller and was given 4 observations, each rated unsatisfactory. Bridgwood was also provided with a professional development plan which included inter-classroom visitation, regular meetings with the Assistant Principal, and a coach.

At the end of the school year Bridgwood was rated unsatisfactory and he appealed. At the hearing the Assistant Principal did not appear. Principal Robert Zweig appeared and testified about Bridgwood’s performance but could not testify to any personal knowledge he had about the observations.

Justice Donna M. Mills found that while the DOE’s by-laws provide for the summoning of witnesses to the hearing and for the hearing to proceed without such witness, if necessary, no explanation was given as to why  Miller did not appear. Mills wrote that it was too early to determine if Miller’s testimony was required and ordered the DOE to answer Bridgwood’s petition.

BRIDGWOOD

Does the termination of a dean of discipline for excessive corporeal punishment “shock the conscience” of the court?

Yes. A dean of discipline of a middle school in a gang-infested area of East New York, Brooklyn, was brought up on 3020-a charges of excessive corporeal punishment stemming from allegations that he placed an 11 year old in a headlock and threw a 13 year old against the wall. The dean denied both allegations and despite his statements the hearing found his story to be completely untrue and terminated him.

In a 3020-a hearing the Court will usually accept the facts as found by the arbitrator. The penalty, however, is held to a standard enunciated under Pell v. Board of Education. While this standard is less than precise it generally will defer to the arbitrator’s decision, after a full review of the teacher’s record, unless it “shocks the conscience” of the Court. In Principe v. Department or Education, it did.

The DOE argued that other cases of a single incident of corporal punishment which resulted in termination had been previously upheld by the Court. Both the Appellate Division, First Department and the Court of Appeals disagreed. In this case Peter Principe’s position of dean of discipline at a troubled middle school had to be taken into consideration. The cases cited by the DOE involved teachers in non-dean roles. Additionally the Appellate Division found, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, the arbitrator was totally biased against Principe and should not have discounted his whole testimony.

In the Matter of Peter Principe, Respondent, v New York City Department of Education, Appellant. 6289, 116031/09. SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT, 94 A.D.3d 431; 941 N.Y.S.2d 574; 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2490; 2012 NY Slip Op 2560 April 5, 2012, Decided.

In the Matter of Peter Principe, Respondent, v New York City Department of Education, Appellant. No. 240 SSM 41, COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK, 2012 N.Y. LEXIS 3632; 2012 NY Slip Op 8568, December 13, 2012, Decided

Is an allegation that the PIP+ program always leads to teacher termination sufficient for a judge to hear an appeal on the merits of a 3020-a hearing?

No. The PIP+ program, a creature of the UFT last collective bargaining agreement, provides allegedly incompetent teachers with a way to deal with these allegations. While designed to help teachers the program, as charged by Christopher Lobo, a twenty year tenured Earth Science teacher from Forest Hills High School, was a sham resulting in an almost certain termination recommendation.

PIP+, purportedly patterned after the union’s peer intervention program, provides for non-DOE evaluators to give assistance to allegedly incompetent teachers. A major difference between the union peer intervention program and PIP+ is that the PIP+ lacks confidentiality. All aspects of the allegedly incompetent teacher’s participation or lack thereof is admissible in a subsequent 3020-a hearing.

Lobo went through the PIP+ program but claimed it was rigged against him and asserted that no one had successfully completed the program. He also claimed that the DOE offered him no help and the observations that supported his U-ratings were flawed because they were completed by supervisors who were not familiar with his subject area.

Arbitrator Lawrence Henderson, in a 103 page decision, found that the observations were proper and he was provided support during the PIP+ period when “in addition [to] having access to staff development days, petitioner was provided with assistance before and after each of Principal Gootnick’s and A.P. Hoffman’s observations, and peer review by RMC Research Corporation, “a private vendor selected by the Department and the UFT” from April 2, 2009 to June 2, 2009. “

Upon appeal to State Supreme Court Justice Joan B. Lobis granted the City’s motion to dismiss finding that Lobo’s claims were insufficient to reverse Henderson’s termination finding.

Lobis wrote, “In light of Hearing Officer Henderson’s findings that petitioner was underperforming as an educator for two straight years, even after being offered resources to improve, petitioner cannot argue that the penalty of termination was unwarranted.”

CHRISTOPHER LOBO, Petitioner, -against- CITY OF NEW YORK; and NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; JOEL KLEIN, CHANCELLOR of NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents, Index No. 116548/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31902U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3426, July 7, 2011, Decided

Will a U-rating be upheld if the reviewing administrator violates a non-substantial right of a teacher when rating the teacher?

Yes. Mitchel Cohn is a tenured  teacher at Williamsburg Middle School Academy (MS 50K). In June 2006 he received a  U-rating. He received another U-rating in June 2007. The second U-rating was based, according to his rating sheet, on 5 informal observations taken place in March and May of 2007. Cohn appealed the rating and despite his argument that he was never given pre or post observation conferences required by the UFT contract his appeal was denied.

Cohn also argued that the failure to provide formal observations, since he was a previously designated U-rated teacher, required formal observations and these rights were outlined in the DOE’s rating manual and Special Circular 45.

On appeal to State Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger held that only “substantial rights” violations would cause the Court to overrule the Chancellor’s final determination of a U-rating. While Justice Schlesinger noted that an Appellate Court had held that “the standard of review in such cases required reversal of an agency’s decision when the relevant agency does not comply with either a mandatory provision or one thas was :intended to be strictly enforced.”  Blaize v Klein, 68 AD3d 759, 761, 889 N.Y.S.2d 665 (2nd Dept., 2009).

So what constitutes a substantial right? Schlesinger held that “The review process that petitioner claims was violated is not found in a statute or regulation, but rather in the CBA and various handbooks. The document where the review process first appears is entitled “Guidelines” and reads as such. Further, that the pre-observation aspect of the Formal Observation model is described slightly differently in the various documents further reinforces the fact that the APPR is intended to act as a set of somewhat flexible guidelines rather than as a directive that must be strictly enforced and that guarantees a substantial right.”

To show a pre-observation conference was a mandatory provision Cohn would have had to show how those conferences deprived him of substantial rights, which the Court found he had not.

In the Matter of the Application of Mitchell Cohn, Petitioner, against Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York; and JOEL I. KLEIN as Chancellor of the City School District of the City of New York, Respondents. 110409/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 51070U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2829, June 7, 2011, Decided

Can a 3020-a decision be reversed as too lenient?

Yes. Douglas Coleman, a 25 year tenured Social Studies teacher employed by the Dundee Central School District was charged with various specifications characterized as conduct unbecoming a teacher and insubordination. Dundee alleged that Coleman had given an exam in one of his classes which, among other things, “contain[ed] inappropriate and suggestive vocabulary words including “yu dick”, “grandma dick” and “Mrs. Dick” …. The second group of charges is that one of the students in the aforementioned class was a student with a disability of high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome, and on her test, Coleman had captioned two cartoon figures of aliens, with the student’s name by one figure and her personal tutor’s name by the other . The third group of charges is that in September of 2007, Coleman attempted to bypass the established District procedure with respect to the utilization of movies within his class” when he showed the movie, “Attica.”

Coleman had been given counseling memos when these incidents occurred and the hearing officer, having found that these incidents were not repeated, dismissed the charges since the school district had already decided how to deal with these infractions. The hearing officer, based on other charges then decided to suspend Coleman for 6 months but required that the District continue to pay for his medical insurance. The District appealed to State Supreme Court.

Justice W. Patrick Falvey of Yates County Supreme Court ruled that the suspension with medical insurance was not valid under 3020-a since the statute contemplated suspensions with no payments. Additionally it was wrong for the hearing officer to dismiss the charges as the District did not waive its right to serve charges where counseling memos were previously utilized.

Justice Falvey remitted the matter back to the District to reconsider the dismissed charges and penalty.

Upon remand the hearing officer dismissed many of the charges again but this time found Coleman guilty of a few of the formally dismissed charges. He imposed the same penalty.

Justice Falvey found that ” the Hearing Officer’s decision regarding penalty lacks a rational basis, due to his improper reliance on the premise that Dundee had to prove Coleman repeated the misconduct that gave rise to the counseling memoranda, before he would consider Dundee’s request for a penalty.”

Coleman 1, In the Matter of the Application of the Board of Education of the Dundee Central School District, Petitioner, against Douglas Coleman Respondent, 2010-0248,  SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, YATES COUNTY, 2010 NY Slip Op 51684U; 29 Misc. 3d 1204A; 2010 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4689

 

Coleman II, Board of Education of the Dundee Central School District, Petitioner, against Douglas Coleman, Respondent, 2011-0011, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, YATES COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 21157; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1999,  April 29, 2011, Decided

Can the DOE withhold legal representation in a civil suit brought against a teacher while a disciplinary proceeding is pending?

Yes. While fortunately not a frequent occurrence, our students and others do sue teachers and other school staff members for injuries allegedly caused by school staff during the course of their employment. General Municipal Law Section 50-k and Education Law 3028 provide that city employees have the right to have the Corporation Counsel represent them and the city pick up any resulting judgment if the employee was acting within the “scope of his employment.”

The critical issue is what was in this “scope” as an employee, for example committing a criminal assault on student would not be covered under this law.

Kevin Martin is a tenured teacher and was assigned to Aspire Preparatory School, MS 322X. While teaching Martin tried to stop a student from disrupting the class. After each request by Martin to the student to stop disrupting the class the student verbally responded with profanity. Martin told the student to go the dean.

According to Martin’s petition, “As a disciplinary measure and the course and scope of Martin’s employment, Martin then removed the aforementioned student chair from beneath the feat of student S[…], whereupon Martin lost control of the chair which fell to the floor at student S[…]’s feet.”

The student and his mother started a civil suit against Martin and Martin requested legal representation which was denied due, in part to an OSI report which found Martin had thrown the chair.

Justice Alice Schlesinger of New York Supreme Court had no problem finding that Martin’s action was within the scope of his employment as disciplinary actions against students are clearly envisioned in the statute. The Court nonetheless after determining that the timeline was suspect (the incident occurred in 2008, the civil suit filed in 2009 and the OSI investigation and charges against Martin were done in 2010) found that there was nothing arbitrary or capricious in the denial of legal representation during the course of the disciplinary proceedings. The Court advised that Martin could commence his own civil action for attorney fees and resulting judgment in the future, if the facts warrant.

In the Matter of KEVIN MARTIN, Petitioner, -against- BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, JOEL J. KLEIN, as Chancellor of the City School District of the City of New York, and the CITY OF NEW York, Respondents, For a Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 30983U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1795, April 12, 2011

Can a probationary teaching assistant utilize the state whistleblower law to defeat a school district’s motion to dismiss her petition for reinstatement?

Yes. Civil Service Law Section 75-b, the public sector component of the state’s whistleblower law, protects public employees from termination if they report a violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety or which the employee reasonably believes to be true and reasonably believes constitutes an improper governmental action. The provision applies to tenured employees only in so far as it may be raised as a defense in a disciplinary arbitration (where a contract calls for that) and applies to probationers if they seek reinstatement from court.

Maureen Sheil began her probation as a teaching assistant in the Merrick Union Free School District in 2009. One of her colleagues was removed from her school after he was charged with possession of child pornography. Sheil became concerned that another of her colleagues, who still kept ties with the removed teaching assistant, supported the removed teaching assistant in such a way that she believed he presented a danger to students at her school. Sheil reported her concerns to the school’s administration only to be later targeted for what Sheil charged was retaliation for her complaint. Sheil was eventually dismissed by the school district.

Sheil raised Civil Service Law Section 75-b to claim that the dismissal was taken in retaliation for her reporting the association of her colleague with the removed teaching assistant.

Justice Denise Sher of Nassau Supreme Court found that Sheil had made a a viable claim and ordered the school district to answer her petition.

In the Matter of the Application of MAUREEN SHEIL, Petitioner, for a Judgment pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Laws and Rules, – against – DR. RANIER W. MELUCCI, Superintendent of Schools, Merrick Union Free School District, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MERRICK UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, and MERRICK UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondents, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NASSAU COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 31242U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2208, April 28, 2011