The reason I was sitting in the stairwell – I sat there for over a month before the administration of GED-Plus grudgingly sent me back to my site to teach my GED students -- had nothing to do with my competency but did have everything to do with my big mouth. You see, my principal, Robert Zweig, had been appointed Deputy Superintendent to District 79 (the district composed of alternative high schools and programs) a year previous, but his appointment was held up because of allegations that he had a liaison with an assistant principal. The investigation took about a year and I'm pretty sure he was cleared, but I suspect that now he was in a position of even more power, he felt emboldened to go after those teachers who had been speaking out about him and his leadership of the program.
The previous incarnation of GED-Plus was called OES, or Offsite Educational Services, and that was closed in June of 2007. Principal Zweig was promoted, the teachers had to reapply for their jobs, and we were all very nervous. Few people spoke out, but I did and now I see the price was huge. I was put in the Rubber Room for 18 months shortly after being placed back in the classroom in 2009, but no charges were ever brought.
Things at this new site were not terrible by NYC standards, but even I was surprised at the lack of concern for moving our students into more advanced programs. All the administration cared about was attendance and enrollment. At the end of the year I was given an Unsatisfactory rating and a $1,000 fine for the ten absences. Most of my absences revolved around the care for my dad who has Parkinson's, but Zweig didn't bother to ask.
Then Occupy happened. I was arrested at the lead of the march across Brooklyn Bridge and four more times. I plead guilty to one violation, and was found guilty of of another because I ignored the lawful order to get off the bridge. I was happily an "Occupier" and teacher and felt the two could coincide. That thought didn't last very long. At the time of my third arrest, the DoE removed me from the classroom, placed me in a "working" Rubber Room and started a full-on 3020-a termination hearing against me.
The DOE started digging up the most minuscule offenses from my past to charge me with. When even that wasn't enough to silence my criticism of the DOE and its policies affecting at-risk youth, a "memo" was sent. The DoE wanted to know where my daughter lived because she was at a NYC high school and in 10th grade, and I was living part-time in Long Island, taking care of my dad.
This final charge of "defrauding" the DoE was what got me fired. The problem with that charge is that I never committed fraud, plus the charges went back years ago, to when she was in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 5th grade, when I applied and enrolled my daughter into the three public schools that she attended. This fraud charge was erroneous because I was living in multiple addresses in the districts where my daughter’s schools were located and I didn’t have a permanent address from the time my daughter was in kindergarten.
There is a three year limit for which you can bring 3020-a charges and this "fraud" charge was clearly past that point, because my daughter was in her 2nd semester of 10th grade. They tried getting around this by arguing that this was "criminal" conduct, but never attempted to prove this was a criminal offense to the arbitrator, let alone in criminal court.
The fraud charge was thrown out in 2013 by the New York Supreme Court and the remaining charges were remanded to another DOE arbitrator for punishment less than termination. Here is an excerpt from the Supreme Court decision from Judge Alice Schlesinger:
The lesson that I've garnered from this more than seven year odyssey is that the system is irrevocably broken, but that at least a few teachers can seek out and find justice, myself included. Imagine though for a second what happens to the student that is caught up in a similar Orwellian nightmare, which I'm guessing is not all that uncommon.
If I almost succumbed to multiple threats over the past several years and I'm a veteran, father, and "educated professional," with everything to live for, then what are our students and their parents facing? It's those nightmares that I try to avoid when I fall asleep at night, but the reality isn't so kind.
Thank you for listening. :)
-- David Suker