Will a probationary termination be upheld where a Chapter Leader, on probation, first started getting unsatisfactory reviews after she wrote a letter to the principal?

No. While it is a bit unusual that a probationer would accept the position of Chapter Leader such a decision was made by a Staten Island teacher. The teacher had performed and was rated satisfactorily up until she wrote a letter to the principal asking how she could make up prep periods. At that point the principal began rating her unsatisfactorily.

Both the Supreme Court and Appellate Division, Second Department found that the teacher’s probationary dismissal was in bad faith and reinstated her with back pay.

The Supreme Court had granted the teacher tenure which the Second Department found was something the Courts could not legally do and sent the matter back to the DOE for further proceedings.

 In the Matter of Lisa Capece, etc., respondent, v Margaret Schultz, etc., et al., appellants. (Index No. 80361/08), 2012-03257, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2014 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3775; 2014 NY Slip Op 3834, May 28, 2014

 

Does a teacher obtain tenure by estoppel even though he signed a letter offering to extend his probationary term for one year?

No. Gerald Chisholm, an English teacher for the Bedford Central School District was terminated from his position during what the District claimed was his fourth year of probation. Chisholm claimed that he had acquired tenure by estoppel since “Tenure may be acquired by estoppel when a school board accepts the continued services of a teacher or administrator, but fails to take the action required by law to either grant or deny tenure prior to the expiration of the teacher’s probationary term.”

In denying Chisholm’s argument the Second Department found that he had written a letter requesting an extension of probation for a fourth year and was thus precluded from asserting he had obtained tenure by estoppel.

Chisholm v. Hochman (September 11, 2013, Decided)

Will the failure to note a previously observed deficiency in a subsequent observation annul a U-rating?

Yes. Aisha Brown, a long time paraprofessional turned teacher was still on probation when she received a U-rating for the 2009-2010 school year. While her petition for reinstatement was denied due to its being untimely the part of her petition seeking to annul her U-rating was timely.

The Appellate Division, First Department found that following Brown’s first year as a probationary special education teacher in 2008-09, she  received a satisfactory rating and also received a satisfactory review for her teaching during the summer 2009 session. Brown was not assigned a coach until the third month of the 2009-2010 school year, and the principal informally observed her teaching for the first time at the end of January 2010, the day after she had asked for help and complained that her literacy coach was ineffective. Pursuant to the principal’s January 28, 2010 observation of her literacy class, Brown received a written evaluation generally criticizing her for failing to have a daily lesson plan. The principal formally observed petitioner’s literacy lesson on March 2, 2010, and again rated it unsatisfactory, but, she was not provided with the post-observation written evaluation until June 7, 2010. The report listed a litany of criticisms, none of which centered on the deficiencies noted in the informal observation. Brown was again formally observed by the assistant principal on June 16, 2010, and the written evaluation, provided to her on June 24th, noted many of the same deficiencies indicated in the June 7th report.
The principal issued the 2009-10 annual professional performance review on June 22, 2010, rating petitioner unsatisfactory for the year, and recommending discontinuance of her probationary employment.

Brown’s initial application for reinstatement and reversal of her U-rating was denied by New York County Supreme Court Justice Alexander W. Hunter, Jr. The Appellate Division reversed her U-rating finding that Brown initial deficiencies were not noted in subsequent observations and her final observation was not received until more that 3 months had elapsed making “the deficiencies in the rating of petitioner were not merely technical, but undermined the integrity and fairness of the entire review process.”

In re Aisha Brown (11/7/2013)

Can a teacher with an intern certificate earn Jarema credit while employed in a substitute position?

No. Under the Jarema law, so-called due to the law’s co-sponsor, a three year period of probationary service can be shortened to one year when “credit” is given for prior probationary service given as a regular substitute on an annual salary. The law was passed to prevent inequities in the length of probation for teachers who had been teaching in unappointed positions in the same license they sought tenure.

State certification requirements have radically changed since the passage of Jarema.

Jesus Berios first started working for the Yonkers School District under an intern certificate; a credential that entitled him to work under the supervision of a fully certified teacher. An intern certificate is “the certificate issued a student in a registered or approved graduate program of teacher education which includes an internship experience(s) and who has completed at least one-half of the semester hour requirement for the program” (8 NYCRR 80-1.1(b) [24])

After one full year teaching under the intern certificate he was appointed with an initial certificate to a regular teaching position in the same subject area for two full school years when he was dismissed, without a hearing.

Berios brought a proceeding in Westchester Supreme Court arguing that he obtained tenure by estoppel, a court determined grant of tenure after finding that he had completed three years of satisfactory service.

Both the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division disagreed. Berios’ service under the intern certificate did not qualify as regular substitute service required under Jarema since he did not have the qualifications to teach without supervision. The Court held, “Allowing a substitute teacher to accumulate tenure credit for time spent teaching pursuant to an intern certificate would mandate that a school board grant or deny tenure to that teacher before he or she obtained a valid teacher’s certificate.”

In the Matter of Jesus Berrios, appellant, v Board of Education of Yonkers City School District, et al., respondents. (Index No. 23910/09), 2010-02768, SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, SECOND DEPARTMENT, 2011 NY Slip Op 5804; 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5663, July 5, 2011, Decided

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