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 the termination of special ed, tenured teacher be upheld when the teacher has been found to have twisted the arms of students?

No. A special education teacher with a long, unblemished record was charged with twisting the arms of several students in separate incidents. The 3020-a arbitrator found excessive corporal punishment and terminated the teacher. The Supreme Court, Justice Margaret Chan, reversed, finding that intent to inflict pain was missing from the incidents and found that the teacher’s actions did not merit termination. ERIC HAUBENSTOCK, Petitioner, -against- CITY OF NEW YORK; NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; DENNIS WALCOTT, CHANCELLOR of NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents. Index Number: 651892/2013, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2691; 2014 NY Slip Op 31549(U), June 16, 2014

Will the termination of a tenured ATR be upheld when he engaged in conversations with students about college and internships that did not offend these students?

No. A substitute teacher covering a double-period class for high school senior students, participated in conversation with a group of the students concerning their college choices and post-graduation internship plans. During the conversation, the teacher offered to serve as a contact point for a potential internship at a media company for a female student who had expressed an interest in film and media. The student testified at the arbitration hearing that she appreciated this and was not offended by the offer. When a male student then indicated that he did not want to do an internship or work during the summer after graduation, the teacher whispered to the female student something to the effect of “watch how they react to this,” and proceeded to tell the students about a valuable internship experience he had before he went to college. The female student also was not offended by this. When another male student expressed his interest in attending a college that was widely reported to be a “party school,” petitioner asked him something to the effect of, “so you’re the type to party with,” or “you want to go to school to party.” The student testified that he was “not offended in any way” by the comment. Rather, the several students who testified generally indicated that they enjoyed the class and found it to have been more interesting than expected from a substitute.

The teacher was terminated by the arbitrator and he appealed. Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan denied the teacher’s petition finding that while the incident itself may not have been grounds for termination the teacher had a prior disciplinary history involving student teaching and thus taken as a whole the conduct merited termination.

The Appellate Division, First Department, reversed. The Court could not find any rule prohibiting the teacher from engaging in these conversations and thus his termination shocked the conscience and could not be sustained.

In re Jonathan Polayes, Petitioner-Appellant, v City of New York, at al., Respondents-Respondents, 12649, 156710/12, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT, 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3905; 2014 NY Slip Op 3958, June 3, 2014

Are teachers who park their cars in legal spots near their school as part of informational picketing and thereby cause students to be dropped off in the street engaged in protected 1st Amendment activity?

No. We have visited this case last year when the Appellate Division reversed the ruling of the Supreme Court in a case coming from the East Meadow school district. As you may recall members of the East Meadow Teachers Association decided to form an informational picket line by parking their cars in legal spots near Woodland Middle School in such a way that pedestrians could only pass to the school’s sidewalk through curb cuts. The parking area was not restricted but had been customarily used as a drop-off area for parents bringing their children to school. The protest caused traffic congestion and students were dropped off by their parents in the middle of the street.

Writing for the majority of the Court of Appeals Judge Abdus-Salaam found that while the teachers’ First Amendment rights were implicated, safety concerns for the students outweighed these rights and permitted the arbitrators to discipline the teachers pursuant to 3020-a.

A strong dissent, written by Judge Rivera, argued that the majority engaged in improper fact finding an improperly weighed the alleged disruption and safety concerns.

In the Matter of Richard Santer, Respondent, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, Appellant. In the Matter of Barbara Lucia, Respondent, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, Appellant, No. 51, No. 52, COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK, 2014 N.Y. LEXIS 997; 2014 NY Slip Op 3189; 199, L.R.R.M. 3291, May 6, 2014

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 a sexual misconduct complaint justify a 20 year tenured teacher’s termination?

Yes. Luis Villada, a tenured teacher assigned to Multicultural High School was the Chapter Leader at his school when he was charged with sexual misconduct upon a fellow teacher and interfering with an OSI investigation. The arbitrator, Haydee Rosario found that the allegations of hugging and kissing a fellow teacher on her mouth were substantiated. After applying the Pell v. Board of Education standard to the DOE’s request to terminate Vilada, the arbitrator found that while Vilada’s record was unblemished after over 20 years the harm that his sexual misconduct caused his colleague warranted his termination.

Justice Margaret Chan affirmed. She found that the penalty of termination did not shock the conscience or was arbitrary and capricious.

Luis Vilada v. City of New York

Will failure to serve the DOE in an Article 75 proceeding within the proscribed period require that the petition be dismissed?

No. Under CPLR 306-b where the statute of limitations is less than 4 months  the action or proceeding must be served within 15 days of the expiration of the statute of limitations. There is no dispute that the petition in Portnoy v. NYCDOE was served well beyond the fifteen day period and the DOE moved to dismiss the proceeding. In denying that part of the DOE’s application Justice Wooten wrote that the application to dismiss would be denied in the interests of justice and in the interest of deciding the matter on its merit.

Portnoy had been charged with multiple specifications which resulted in his termination by Arbitrator Rosario. Justice Wooten affirmed the termination finding no basis that Arbitrator Rosario’s opinion and award violated public policy or Portnoy’s due process rights.

Portnoy v. NYCDOE

Will the Court uphold an arbitrator’s imposed fine for engaging in protected 1st Amendment free speech activity?

No. Richard Santer, a teacher employed by the East Meadow Union Free School District engaged, with other teachers, in a peaceful protest while negotiations for a new contract were underway. The protest involved picketing in front of a middle school which included parking their cars in front of the school and display their picket signs in their cars. This area was also used by the middle school’s students’ parents to drop off their children for school.

None of the teachers blocked either of two curb cuts in front of the school but according to the principal the protesting teachers’ parking caused traffic to become congested creating a safety concern for students being dropped off in the middle of the street.

No school official asked the teachers to move their cars during the protest, and no child was injured.

The school district brought disciplinary charges against several teachers under 3020-a and after an arbitration Santer was fined $500. His appeal was denied in Supreme Court.

On appeal to the Appellate Division Santer prevailed. The Appellate Division found that Santer’s free speech rights were violated and by bringing him up on disciplinary charges the school district, in effect, chilled free speech rights of all teachers concerning a matter of public concern.

N.B. In a case brought to the same Appellate Division, but a different panel, concerning the same incident but with a different teacher the Court held that the arbitrator was reasonable in upholding the discipline. In that case, Matter of Trupiano v Board of Educ. of E. Meadow Union Free School Dist., 89 AD3d 1030, 933 N.Y.S.2d 106) the teacher received a counseling memo. The Santer Court reasoned that Trupiano was not controlling since Trupiano did not raise a First Amendment claim in her petition.

Another teacher who was fined $1000 for the same incident was denied her appeal at the Supreme Court level. The Court there found that she engaged in an activity that endangered student safety. She did not appeal further. Barbara Lucia, Petitioner, against Board of Education of the East Meadow Union Free School District, Respondent. 32 Misc. 3d 1208A; 932 N.Y.S.2d 761; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3178; 2011 NY Slip Op 51210U (Nassau Sup.Ct., 2011)

In the Matter of Richard Santer, appellant, v Board of Education of East Meadow Union Free School District, respondent. (Index No. 1997/10), 2010-11006, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8698; 2012 NY Slip Op 8750, December 19, 2012, Decided.

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