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Mike Bloomberg announced a new piece of legislation this afternoon that would give the mayor, via the city’s school chancellor, more power to dismiss teachers who engage in acts of sexual misconduct in the classroom.
You’d think that inappropriate sexual behavior form teachers is something everyone could agree on, but apparently not.
Today’s announcement from the mayor’s office has already sparked an (admittedly unsurprising) war of words between the mayor and the Teachers Union with regards to how school systems across the state respond to allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior in schools.
Under the proposed statewide legislation, championed by the mayor today and brought forth by State Senator Stephen Saland, school districts would have enhanced abilities to dismiss teachers in sexual misconduct cases by having the final say of what action should ultimately be taken.
Under the current law, outside hearing officers decide on these cases and impose binding penalties — including whether the teacher is fired. Districts must stick with what these hearing officers decide. The proposed legislation unveiled today at a press conference at Gracie Mansion would reverse that.
In New York City, where the mayor controls the school system, that means Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who joined Bloomberg for the announcement today, has the ultimate power in these cases. In New York City, this kind of structure would resemble the systems in place for nearly all other city employees, Bloomberg said. If this proposed legislation were to eventually be implemented, hearing officers would submit decisions to the school district (or in the case of New York City, to Walcott), who then makes the final conclusion.
“This is a big problem we have in our schools, and we want to address it,” Bloomberg said. “Some employees act in ways that demand nothing short of their termination…We think that every child deserves a safe learning environment…We will certainly not accept regulations that put our children at risk…All too often the employees are not terminated [under the current law].”
The mayor explained that allegations, in the current policy, lead to investigations that are resolved by arbitrators who work to please the interests of the United Federation of Teachers and the Dept. of Education, which can sometimes lead to decisions that are not in the best interest of the students. With this law, the DOE says it has been blocked from getting read of teachers in cases where the city’s own independent investigator found of instances of inappropriate sexual conduct.
The mayor’s press release cites an example of a teacher who touched a number of female students’ buttocks, breasts, waists, stomachs, and necks but was only given a 45-day paid suspension by the hearing officer, who determined that the teacher had hugged on student and hugged and tickled another on her waist.
Walcott told reporters that out of 200 cases he reviewed, there were 24 where the decisions really concerned him.
“I’m the one who has to go in front of the families,” he said. “It should be my responsibility.”
Under the proposed law, teachers still have the right to file an appeal with the New York State Supreme Court.
That doesn’t mean the UFT is happy about it.
The union emailed out a statement from UFT President Michael Mulgrew this afternoon, saying:
The UFT believes in zero tolerance on the issue of sexual misconduct with children. That’s why our contract already includes the toughest penalty in the state – automatic termination — for any teacher found guilty of this offense. This proposed legislation would allow the Chancellor to unilaterally find an employee guilty of sexual misconduct even though an independent hearing officer who has weighed all the evidence has determined otherwise. Sexual misconduct involving children is a serious issue. Giving the Chancellor – who has previously said that an accusation is not the same thing as a finding of guilt – the power to ignore the evidence and an arbitrator’s decision is not an answer to it.
A reporter read part of this quote to Bloomberg, who is always clashing with the UFT, prompting the mayor to respond with his own criticisms.
“The Teachers Union is not there to protect our kids. The Teachers Union is there to protect the members of that union,” the mayor said. “They may use children as pawns…but the bottom line is protecting the public is the job of government.”