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 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

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

Will a Court Entertain a Discovery Request in a 3020-a Proceeding Before a Final Award is Made?

No. Many times when faced with a disciplinary hearing the parties require information from each other to prepare for the case. While the Education Law provides an affirmative obligation to provide such material the guidelines for the issuance of such a discovery order from an arbitrator are not clear.

In this case the School District sought some emails from a teacher. The arbitrator refused to order the teacher to turn them over so the District went to Supreme Court to seek redress.

Justice Donald A. Greenwood ruled that a court order in such a situation was improper since the statute only allowed the court to review final arbitration determinations.

It is important in such cases to make the application on the record to preserve any issue for appeal.

In the Matter of the Application of the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District and the Board of Education thereof, Petitioners, For an Order Pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR Vacating the Hearing Officer’s Decision, against Anonymous, a Tenured Administrator, Respondent. Sup. Ct., Onondaga County, October 16, 2012. Index No. 2012-3582.

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

Does dismissal of a teacher found to have sexually harassed and verbally abused one student for one single incident shock the conscience of the Court?

No. Reinaldo Palencia, a twenty-two year veteran teacher, most recently from Martin Van Buren High School, was found by arbitrator Arthur Riegel to have, on one occasion, touched the shoulder of a female student and whisper in her ear words to the effect that if he were the student’s age he would fuck her.

Palencia raised several issues but the Court focused on whether Palencia’s good disciplinary history warranted his termination for what was basically a single incident of verbal abuse.

The Court quoted Riegel’s decision and agreed that Palencia’s action constitute[d] “classical sexual harassment” and “extreme verbal abuse.”

The Court continued, “Although termination is a severe penalty, it is
proportionate to the egregious, highly inappropriate nature of petitioner’s behavior, notwithstanding petitioners history with DOE.”

Reinaldo Palencia, Petitioner, against The New York City Board/Department of Education, Respondent. 112557/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 50905U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2381, May 13, 2011, Decided

Will the failure of the DOE to follow the UFT contract’s requirement to reduce OSI investigations to writing within 6 months prevent a teacher from being disciplined under 3020-a?

Article 21, C(4) of the UFT contract provides that when an investigation of a teacher is conducted any report must be reduced in writing, given to the teacher with an opportunity to respond in writing within 6 months of the date of the incident investigated or the date that the DOE should have discovered it.

Phyllis Nuchman, a 29 year veteran special education teacher was charged with 3 specification dealing with her responsibilities with maintaining special education records and IEP conferences. The charges resulted from an SCI/OSI investigation which took longer than six months to complete. It was undisputed that neither Nuchman or her UFT rep were given written copies of the investigation or given a chance to respond before charges were lodged against her.

Arbitrator Jay Siegel denied Nuchman’s motion to dismiss the charges based on the DOE’s failure to comply with the UFT contract. After a hearing Nuchman was suspended for 4 months.

On appeal to State Supreme Court Nuchman reargued the motion to dismiss claiming that the provisions of the contract required that the investigation be completed within 6 months. Justice Cynthia Kern found that there was nothing in the contract which specifically prevented the DOE from bringing charges that were not reduced to writing within six months. Justice Kern found that the arbitrator correctly weighed Nuchman’s 29 years of service and rejected the DOE’s attempt to terminate her. Justice Kern found that the 4 month suspension was reasonable.

Observation: The contract language is pretty strong. It provides that “The writing may not be incorporated into the employee’s personnel file or record, unless this procedure is followed, and any such writing will be removed when an employee’s claim that it is inaccurate or unfair is sustained.” Given this strong language it is hard to imagine how charges can be sustained if is not part of an employees file.
In the Matter of the Application of PHYLLIS NUCHMAN, Petitioner, -against- JOEL I. KLEIN, CHANCELLOR, NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, and THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Respondents, To Vacate a Decision of a Hearing Officer Pursuant to Education Law Section 3020-a and CPLR Section 7511. Index No. 111217/10, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY, 2011 NY Slip Op 30694U; 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1215, March 10, 2011