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 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

 

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

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.)

Will a teacher who maintains that her probationary period begins upon her appointment and not the date she receives her professional license prevail?

Yes. Carolina Castro began her appointment to teach science at DeWitt Clinton High School on September 3, 2003. From 2003 until 2009 she received satisfactory reviews and obtained her professional certification on September 1, 2009.

The DOE maintained that her probation began in 2009 and she received tenure effective September 1, 2013. Castro maintained that her seniority rights would be affected if the later date was used for her tenure date and she filed an Article 78 in Supreme Court.

The DOE moved to dismiss as the issue was moot since she had obtained tenure.

Justice Eileen A. Rakower granted the petition finding that the DOE action had no rational basis. Rakower did not deal with the mootness issue even though it does not appear that tenure is in any way affected by seniority.

Castro v. DOE (Decided 9/11/13)

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

Can a teacher, covered by a collective bargaining agreement maintain an action pursuant to Civil Service law 75-b, the Whistleblower’s Law?

No. Michele Ehrlich, an ESL teacher at PS 79 in Whitestone until her probationary termination in July 2011, complained to several DOE departments and some private advocacy groups about a violation of an IEP of one of her students. After her termination she claimed she was covered by the Whistleblower’s Law Section 75-b. (A federal claim concerning her free speech rights was dismissed in a federal action that had been removed to that court by the DOE).

Acting Justice Ellen M. Coin ruled that Ehrlich could not maintain her action under the Whistleblower’s law since she was covered by the UFT contract and was required to exhaust her remedies available under the grievance procedure before she could commence an action.

Ehrlich v. DOE (November 7, 2013, Decided)

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)