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Closing the Rubber Rooms

[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.

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4 Comments:

  • 1 Love to Teach
    · Apr 17, 2010 at 5:03 am

    About time these were closed.
    Now on to our new contract !!!
    You have to give up to get something !!!

  • 2 bronxactivist
    · Apr 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    I am glad rubber rooms are gone and that there are limits on the time taken to file chargers against teachers. When there is a problem with a teacher administrators are infamous in dragging out their feet in order to complete a preliminary investigation. To know you even have charges filed against you it takes a while and seems like a way to torture teachers. Teachers are humbled and end up fearing students and not be willing to go the extra mile to for example stop a fight or even intervene when a student is being assaulted for fear of putting themselves in a situation where they will be charged with something and spend years in a rubber room. Those teachers that do wrong and shouldn’t be around children should be removed in a fair and judicious manner with due process. Those teachers that are innocent should not be tortured and denied due process.

    Let’s look at the big picture if these principals were applied to the criminal justice system. Imagine being charged with a crime and having to wait years to see a judge or even be provided with a lawyer or to be told what the charges are? This process seemed to as if we were in a third world country where many crimes and cases take years to be adjudicated and often people do not even know what they are being charged with for months and years Many teachers jobs are their lifeblood and their contribution to society. This was happening in NYC, NYS, U.S.A. Where we pride ourselves with being a country of justice and fairness. We pride ourselves with being the symbol of due process so imagine without tenure what would happen to teachers?

    In addition when you hear students threatening teachers and telling teachers they will get them fired it is scary. When you hear students saying they are going to write a teacher up because they do not like him/her it becomes shocking as an educator especially when we are often blamed for most disciplinary issues in our classrooms. When teachers are the “bad guy” that is they are strong disciplinarian they end up in a rubber room or facing accusations. Some schools do not suspend students or hold students accountable when students abuse teachers. When students curse, threaten, or harass teachers even the chancellor regulation and citywide discipline code provides minimum recourse for the teacher. This empowers the students to take control and be empowered and forget that they are there to be educated. Teachers come to work to teach not to be mocked, belittled or abused by students. Think what happens to a student that screams, curses or even pushes a teacher? You will be surprised what the answer is: nothing significant. The student if they get a superintendent suspension will get from 10 to 30 days in a suspension center which they often do not attend and end up in the same school with the teacher.

    Along with the teacher discipline system being reformed also reform the student discipline system to protect teachers from false accusations and overall abuse especially in the tougher schools with high teacher turnover.

  • 3 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Apr 18, 2010 at 8:46 am

    New York City Department of Education Reassignment centers AKA rubber rooms are currently housing approximately 500 teachers. There are 13 reassignment centers where teachers await resolution of their cases. The Rubber Rooms to my knowledge do not reflect democracy in action for our members. The rubber rooms are basically unconstitutional.

    As citizens of this great country, we are entitled to basic rights which are afforded under the United States Constitution. Therefore, it is my opinion that the Rubber Rooms should be closed immediately. Why wait until June!

    As United States citizens, UFTers should enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the incident or crime was committed. These members should be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. The members should be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for defense. These are basic rights under the law.

    Surely delay of a year or more from the date on which the speedy trial or the date of arrest or indictment, whichever first occurs is termed presumptively prejudicial. That is what our laws tell us. And surely for members who must wait months and years for a decision, justice is denied. Justice delayed = justice denied.

    Our union of organized men and women can ensure fair treatment in the workplace and beyond the perimeters of the workplace. Our union must continue to be extremely effective in advocating for the basic civil rights causes of their members in the halls of government at the federal, state, and county levels 24/7.

    John Henrik Clarke said,“History is a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. History tells a people where they are and what they are. Most importantly, history tells a people where they still must go and what they still must be.”

    Today, there is a need for courageous men and women, who to find themselves on the map of human geography, to address the crisis in basic civil rights because it continues in the workplace and outside the workplace. Our union of organized men and women can ensure fair treatment in the workplace and beyond the perimeters of the workplace. And since we are the union, WE must roll into action and advocate for the basic civil rights of our members in the halls of government at the federal, state, and county levels.

    The Rubber Rooms are a blight on the body politic. The should be closed immediately and removed from the lexicon of human decency.

    Phyllis C. Murray, UFT Chapter Leader
    P.S. 75X

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