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Walcott Pushes for Easier Firing in Sexual Misconduct Cases

Friday, June 15, 2012 - 07:49 AM

The New York City schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, is ramping up his efforts to accelerate discipline for teachers accused of sexual misconduct, holding a rare news conference this Friday morning to again make his case.

The chancellor had an Op-Ed article published in The New York Times on Friday, in which he argues that trusting decisions about firing abusive teachers to arbitrators is fraught with bias.

In private schools, those who are found guilty of inappropriate conduct can be (and often are) immediately fired. But in our public schools, we are often unable to properly punish sexual misconduct even after it has been established by investigators. As a result, the teacher in question often remains in the classroom.

Here’s why: In New York’s public schools, the power to discipline teachers and administrators does not lie with the school district. Instead, it rests with an arbitrator, jointly selected by the school district and the teachers’ union.

In theory and in practice, this system is a recipe for disaster. An arbitrator knows that if he makes a ruling that disappoints either party he might be barred from future cases. This interest in pleasing both sides can lead an arbitrator to “split the baby,” for instance by offering some punishment (in hopes of pleasing the school district) but also some leniency (in hopes of pleasing the teachers’ union). This can undermine the cause of justice and fail to protect students from predators.

He goes on to say:

As it stands, public school teachers accused of sexual misconduct enjoy protections that no other city employee has. That puts children in danger, and we cannot allow it to continue.

Presumably he intends to make much the same case as he meets with reporters at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Mr. Walcott is trying to put pressure on the State Legislature to change the procedures before they end the legislative session in coming days. The United Federation of Teachers, while making clear that it believes teachers who abuse children should be fired, maintains that the existing procedures are sufficient.

We will be covering Mr. Walcott's news conference on Friday and keeping track of developments in Albany.

Also in The New York Times on Friday, the columnist Jim Dwyer opens up an important topic for discussion (and one sensitive to a certain middle-aged editor who writes First Bell for SchoolBook): the inability of children who grow up in cities to swim.

Mr. Dwyer writes:

New York is an island city, washed by the Atlantic, with 14 miles of superb public beaches. And it’s not just nature. In the space of a few weeks during the summer of 1936, during the Great Depression, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia opened 11 mighty public swimming pools, built with the help of the Works Progress Administration. More pools arrived in the early 1970s, and others in the last decade. Today, the city has more than 50 outdoor public pools, in addition to indoor pools in every borough. The parks department offers swimming lessons year round, though some have waiting lists.

The school system, with some exceptions, has given up on swimming education; a few high schools require students to pass a swimming test or to take lessons, but, unlike proper use of condoms, it is not part of the curriculum required by the city. There are 50 pools inside the public schools, and 37 are in use. Students who are looking for summer employment will seek out lifeguard certification classes, though, in truth, they would be strong swimmers to begin with, probably least in need of the basic lessons that allow young people to be safe in the water.

“Everyone is concerned about the obesity of the young people, and rightly so,” said Ernest Logan, the president of the union that represents school supervisors and principals. “Here is an opportunity to tackle that. If there were rhyme and reason.”

Some schools still have pools or still teach swimming. If you are affiliated with one of those schools, please post about it on your SchoolBook page, for the benefit of parents and other community members.

But given the jam-packed school schedules, and weeks (if not months) of test preparation going on in city schools, how might swimming be worked into the school day? And should it be? Respond to our query below.

Two departures were announced on Thursday from the city education scene:

As Gotham Schools reported:

Leo Casey, the vice president of academic high schools since 2007, said today that he is taking a new position this fall as the director of the Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute is a research arm of the American Federation of Teachers, the national union to which the UFT belongs.

And farewell to Matthew Mittenthal, who has been an anchor of the Department of Education's communications department. Seems a fellow named Barack Obama has hired Matt. Good luck, Matt, and thank you. The relationship between the news media and city agencies is inherently antagonistic, but you proved that it did not have to be unpleasant.

This weekend, students and others are expected to turn out on Sunday -- Father's Day -- for a march against the city's stop-and-frisk policy. The march is being organized by civil rights and labor leaders, to pressure the city to abandon the policy of stopping people -- predominately young men of color -- for gun checks.

The "silent" march down Fifth Avenue is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at 110th Street.

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