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

Will a discrimination complaint, drafted by an attorney on behalf of a paraprofessional, that a court finds to contain numerous errors and insufficiencies, be dismissed?

Yes. Barry Maynard, a paraprofessional at John F. Kennedy High School, commenced a discrimination action against the DOE and several named defendants including the principal, Lisa Luft. Maynard alleged, in his complaint, that after serving several years of satisfactory service “a female student told her guidance counselor that he had been harassing her and another student by asking the girls to spend time with him away from school.” During the investigation an OSI investigator allegedly told Maynard that “since Obama became President, you people think you can get away with anything.”

The investigation resulted in Maynard being dismissed.

The DOE and City moved to dismiss the complaint and the Court agreed.

The Court wrote, “Plaintiff’s complaint is no model of clarity. Plaintiff is represented by counsel, but I have received complaints from pro se plaintiffs that are more “professional.” For example, the Complaint in multiple instances describes Plaintiff–a male–with female pronouns. It refers to a gender discrimination claim, although Plaintiff only advances a race discrimination claim. I can read it clearly enough, however, to ascertain that it should be dismissed.”

The Court found numerous pleading errors and insufficiencies and dismissed the claim in its entirety.

Maynard v City of New York

Can a Chapter Leader, excluded from his school pending disciplinary charges, be prevented from attending School Leadership Team meetings?

Yes. Francesco Portelos, the duly elected Chapter Leader at IS 49 in Staten Island, was reassigned pending a SCI investigation and, by letter, notified that he was not to return to IS 49 without prior written permission and that any school activities he had participated in would remain suspended until the resolution of the matter.

As Chapter Leader Portelos is a mandated member of the School Leadership Team and commenced an Article 78 proceeding to challenge his exclusion from the Team. Justice Cynthia Kern initially ruled that the petition was time-barred since it was filed almost one year after he was excluded from the meetings.

Kern ruled that even if the petition was timely she would denied the relief requested because DOE’s policy of exclusion was rational and in accordance with its policies and procedures. Chancellor’s Regulation A-655 provides that mandatory members attend the meetings the regulation “does not confer a right upon such member if they are prohibited from entering the school or participating in school activities due to administrative reassignment and/or pending charges of misconduct.”

Portelos also argued that the school violated the Open Meetings Law, POL Section 103 by excluding him. Kern ruled that School Leadership Teams were advisory in nature and not subject to the Open Meetings Law.

Portelos v. NYCDOE

Is an arbitration award which dismisses only one charge ripe for review and does the 3 year limitations period apply to a charge under 3020-a which alleges a criminal charge?

Yes and Yes. Michael P Hogan submitted an employment application to the Hauppauge Union Free School District in 2006 which in 2010 the school district alleged he failed to disclose that he had previously held a probationary teaching position with another school district and resigned after allegations were made that he used corporal punishment and he would not receive tenure.

Educations Law 3020-a prohibits the bringing of charges against a teacher which are older than 3 years. In Hogan’s case the District argued that the exception contained in 3020-a which allowed the bringing of charges older than 3 years when they sounded in a criminal charge applied since the application allegedly violated Penal Law 175.30, offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree.

The arbitrator dismissed the charge and was ready to hear the remaining two charges when the district appealed.

The Appellate Division, Second Department found that the criminal allegation exception applied and reinstated the charge. Additionally they found that even though the arbitrator’s decision did not make a finding of all pending charges the matter was ripe for review since the arbitrator dismissed the most serious charge.

Hauppauge Union Free School District v. Hogan (September 11, 2013, Decided)

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

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