Update : Does the Appellate Division agree with the lower court that the Special Commissioner of Investigation has no power to force a tenured teacher to testify about a matter covered by 3020-a?

Yes. In a post one year ago Supreme Court Justice Carol Huff denied the Special Commissioner of Investigation’s application to force a tenured teacher to give testimony in a matter covered under the protections of 3020-a, the teacher’s right to an adversarial hearing. The Appellate Division has now affirmed. Since testifying before the SCI would be admissable at a 3020-a hearing, ” forcing a tenured teacher or assistant principal to testify in an SCI proceeding is tantamount to forcing that employee to testify in a DOE disciplinary proceeding, which directly conflicts with state law, Education Law 3020(3)(c)(i).”

Condon v. Sabater (App. Div., 1st Dept.)

Must the DOE return a vindicated teacher to her original school after all disciplinary charges were dismissed?

Yes. Judith Merenstein, a tenured elementary school teacher for almost 20 years was served with charges that included a U-rated observation by the LIS. The arbitrator who heard the case found the LIS and others not credible and part of a campaign to discredit and terminate Merenstein. All charges were dismissed.

Subscribing to the theory that no good deed goes unpunished the DOE reinstated her to a different school. She promptly filed a proceeding in Court claiming that the State Education Law provided that she was to return to her original school and limited the power of the DOE to reassign her. The DOE moved to dismiss Merenstein’s petition and Justice Lucy Billings denied the motion and ordered the DOE to respond to her petition.

Billings found that the DOE had the right to reassign Merenstein to a different workplace (the rubber room) while charges were pending but State Law was clear that she had to be reinstated to the same school if charges were dismissed.

Observation: The decision does not deal with the impact of the CBA and exhaustion of the grievance procedure.

In the Matter of the Application of JUDITH MERENSTEIN, Petitioner, For a Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules – against – BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, and DENNIS M. WALCOTT, in his official capacity as CHANCELLOR of the CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, Respondents, Index No. 111208/2011, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5468; 2012 NY Slip Op 32844U October 18, 2012, Decided. November 13, 2012, Filed.

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