Rubber Rooms Get Bounced: Mayor To Announce End of Teacher Gulags

Finally! The Post is reporting this morning that Mayor Bloomberg and the city's teacher union will announce today a plan to close the much-derided "rubber rooms" where teachers awaiting disciplinarian hearings are forced to sit and rot (while taxpayers pay their salaries).

Just this morning, WNYC's Beth Fertig was speaking about her intriguing report from inside one of the "reassignment centers" where teachers can sit for months or years, waiting for their cases to lurch forward.

As Fertig puts it, "A principal can't just fire a teacher. First there's an investigation, then a hearing. And all of that takes time. Because the school system doesn't want teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct to be around children, suspended teachers are sent to rubber rooms. And there they wait."

Firing teachers is extremely rare. As the Times recently pointed out, "in the two years since the Education Department began an intensive effort to root out such teachers from the more than 55,000 who have tenure, officials have managed to fire only three for incompetence."

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Rubber rooms may be the one school environment harder to get into than an actual regular classroom for education reporters, but Fertig was escorted into one by an insider, lucking out that "the security guard's booth happened to be empty at 7:30 a.m., so it was easy to walk through the chain-link fenced gate." [Hey, Thrasher, we had a Voice reporter in one three years ago. -- Ed.] Her observations about what she saw in a series of trailers on the campus of a high school in Washington Heights -- one of six rubber room locations that hold about 600 teachers around the city -- are pretty interesting.

But as Fertig was talking about her story live on WNYC this morning, the Post reported breaking news that "Mayor Bloomberg and the city's teachers' union are set to announce today an agreement that will shutter the controversial teacher reassignment centers known as 'rubber rooms.' "

The length of time teachers spend in the rubber rooms has long been a point of contention of both the city and the union, with the city complaining they are paying teachers to do nothing, and the union complaining their members are being denied a timely trial. This morning, Fertig had been speaking about how city arbitrators are only allowed to work on education cases a maximum of five days a month, when the Post announced that "The city will also hire more arbitrators and set a strict time limit on the length of investigations in order clear up the logjam in disciplinary hearings."

"Teachers accused of lesser charges" will no longer wait in rubber rooms before their hearings, according to the Post, but will instead "report to Department of Education administrative offices or schools to perform clerical duties."


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