[Editor's note: This piece first appeared on the Huffington Post.]
Rubber rooms, where New York City teachers can sit for years while being investigated or while going through a hearing process, don’t work for anyone. They don’t work for schools, students or teachers.
Fixing this problem has been a high priority for me ever since I became President of the UFT eight months ago.
In a groundbreaking agreement between the UFT and the Department of Education, we have agreed to shut the rubber rooms down; from now on teachers under investigation or facing charges will generally be employed in administrative tasks in schools or DOE offices.
Closing the rubber rooms is an important step, but in order to ensure that the overall teacher disciplinary process is both faster and more fair, we have also established limits on how long investigations and hearings may take.
There will be a cap of 60 days on how long most teachers accused of misconduct can be removed from a classroom while being investigated and before being charged. For teachers accused of incompetence the limit will be 10 days. Teachers not charged within these time limits will be returned to their classrooms; for those whose investigations result in charges, we have made arrangements to speed up the hearing process, including plans to increase in the number of arbitrators who hear such cases.
Why is this important?
Teachers sitting in rubber rooms cost the Department of Education an estimated $30 million a year, an unacceptable expense as our schools face dramatic budget cuts. We expect to realize substantial savings by shortening a process that now can take years into one that takes months or even weeks.
But the real benefits will be to our students, our schools, and teachers wrongly accused. We need our teachers to be in the classrooms and schools where they belong, helping our students learn; and most teachers stuck in rubber rooms want to be back in those classrooms, practicing their profession.
Teachers know that any system needs a disciplinary process — but not one that takes forever and punishes the innocent as well as the guilty. Closing the rubber rooms, eliminating the backlog of cases — which we intend to have completed by the end of this calendar year — and creating a fairer and faster disciplinary process is a solution that works for everyone.