Streams

Teachers Accused of Sexual Misconduct Still Teaching

Friday, April 06, 2012 - 08:59 AM

On this first day of spring break, The New York Times has a disturbing report related to something that seems to be an epidemic so far this year: school staff members' sexual conduct with students.

David W. Chen and Patrick McGeehan report on 16 cases in which teachers had inappropriate conduct with students, and in most cases are still teaching.

Citing three examples of the accusations -- a health teacher in Manhattan who demonstrated what he described as a gay act, a Bronx science teacher who brushed his body up against a student's during a lab exercise, a Bronx math teacher who cyber- and physically stalked a student -- the Times report says few of those teachers have suffered consequences.

The New York City Education Department wanted to fire these teachers. But in these and 13 other cases in recent years in which teachers were accused of inappropriate behavior with students, the city was overruled by an arbitrator who, despite finding wrongdoing, opted for a milder penalty like a fine, a suspension or a formal reprimand.

As a result, 14 of those 16 teachers are still teaching and in contact with students, on either a daily or occasional basis. The other two were removed from their positions within the last month when new allegations of misbehavior surfaced against them, according to the Education Department. The department released records of the 16 cases, including reports compiled by the department’s special commissioner of investigation and the arbitrators’ rulings, under a Freedom of Information request.

With the reports in recent weeks of seven arrests of school staff members for this kind of conduct -- and worse -- the article raises questions about the effectiveness of the process. The union protections afforded the teachers are blamed by some. On the other hand, the decisions by the arbitrator may have been faulty.

In any case, as Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott pledges to crack down on school personnel who behave inappropriately with students, these cases make it clear that firing teachers who are accused of misconduct will not be easy.

As in many states, New York law grants tenured teachers the right to a hearing in front of an arbitrator before they can be fired. Teachers can also appeal an arbitrator’s ruling to a civil court.

“As I was reviewing these cases, I said, ‘Huh? How could this person go back to the classroom?’ ” Mr. Walcott said in an interview Thursday. “It’s very frustrating. Definitely my hands are tied because the arbitrator made a ruling, because I would not have put these people back in the classroom.” .

Speaking of Chancellor Walcott, he has been all over the press, airwaves and Internet this week as he celebrates his one-year anniversary in the job.

Mr. Walcott, as is his wont, made very little news. Here is a roundup (incomplete) of his more interesting comments:

Asked by SchoolBook whether any good had come of the release of the teacher data reports in March, he said:

Yes, to answer your question, I think a lot of good came out of it. Just a discussion around teacher quality, teacher effectiveness, and the ability of the teacher to do well. What didn’t come out was what are the other variables that contribute to a teacher being a good or a great teacher as well. And I think that got lost in the discussion and that was what I was trying to convey beforehand, is that one shouldn’t view the T.D.R.s as the be-all-to-end-all. It was one sliver of information.

Asked by The Daily News about his relationship with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Bloomberg's education agenda, he said:

I can’t think of anything in my years here where we have had disagreements that resulted in something being pushed back. We’re pretty much in sync with each other.

He told The New York Post that he supports the release of rankings of individual teachers -- at least to parents -- which is a subject of discussion in Albany.

Parents should be the key recipient of the data. If that’s the type of discussion that’s taking place . . . I would be supportive of that.

And during a whirlwind tour of city schools on Thursday -- Mr. Walcott has been a constant presence in the schools -- he demonstrated his energy and comfortable interactions with students, Gotham Schools reported, including his participation in a salsa class with students at M.S. M 247 Dual Language Middle School in Manhattan.

Here's some news for parents of future public school students: Inside Schools reported that the deadline for applications to prekindergarten has been extended to April 10.

And after Chris Palmer's touching post and video on SchoolBook earlier this week about the nomadic Bronx High School of Science varsity boys baseball team, there is some good news for Bronx high school baseball teams this week: the long-awaited, overdue replacement fields for those taken over by the construction of the new Yankee Stadium are at long last open and running. And as Winnie Hu reports in her first New York Times article on her new beat covering the Bronx, everything is first class,to the astonishment of the student players.

Heritage Field is the last piece in the city’s seven-year struggle to replace the parkland used for the new stadium, capping a $195.6 million parks project that was among the most expensive in the city’s history. Today, despite doubts among local residents, a patchwork of eight new or renovated parks has sprung up around the stadium.

Indeed, the city splurged for $1.2 million in commemorative touches to enhance Heritage Field, including $450,000 for a 12-ton chunk of the old Yankee Stadium frieze that has been preserved like the Berlin Wall in one corner. Another stadium relic — a 130-foot-high chimney shaped like a baseball bat — cost $120,000 to refurbish, though it no longer serves a purpose other than as a local landmark.

Even the old diamond and outfield have been saved, delineated with five-foot-wide swaths of blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod by a Desso Grassmaster machine that had to be shipped over from the Netherlands. And, no, that was not cheap: $160,000.

Any chance the Bronx Science boys can squeeze in some playing time there?

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of what's in the news this Friday morning.

And to all SchoolBook's readers and users of our site: have a meaningful Passover or Easter, and a great weekend. We'll be back next week.

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