Today we are hearing a lot about clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Back in 2006 I saw a Coptic Christian, Mr. E, try to help K.N., a Muslim. I liked Mr. E., the custodian. I often stayed late after school and saw him when he came to sweep my classroom. He was an older gentleman with white hair and a permanent smile on his face. K.N. who shared a room with me also liked him.
One day she told me that they were both from Egypt, but that they had different religions--he was Christian and she was Muslim. She told me a little about the Coptic Christians.
After I learned that Mr. E. had actually been a witness to the incident with J.F., I urged K.N. to get him to write a statement in her defense.
"I don't want to make trouble for him." She said.
"Why would there be any trouble for him?" I asked. "He's just telling what he saw."
I was really stupid back then.
Eventually I got her to let me approach him. I asked him about the day that she had talked to him in the hall about giving her some garbage bags for an experiment. Yes, he remembered very well. Did he happen to see Ms. N. grab a boy as he entered the classroom? No, but there was a boy who pushed past her and then tripped when his bookbag got caught on the door. Did he know that she had been accused by the boy of tripping him on purpose? No, but the boy had gotten angry and said something about it being her fault. Could he write down what he saw? Of course, no problem.
K.N. gave Mr. E.'s handwritten letter to her attorney, and at some point during the 2006-2007 school year the attorney called the school (!) and asked to make an appointment with Mr. E. who was a witness in the 3020a hearing of K.N.
Shortly thereafter Mr. E. was brought up on charges. There had been an "incident" in one of the science classrooms. A substitute had led the students downstairs and had failed to notice that the last students on line had opened the water faucet full force and thrown papers all over the classroom floor. The classroom was flooded by the time someone noticed and turned off the water. It had been Mr. E.'s job to clean up the mess. He took a piece of paper and wrote a note to the teacher: "Make sure the water is turned off before leaving the classroom" or something equally innocuous. The next thing Mr. E. knows, he is brought up on charges for threatening a teacher.
Mr. E. told me about the "incident" (I hate that word) and I offered to write a letter in his defense. He was glad I offered. I wrote a glowing letter saying truthfully what a kind, respectful, considerate, hardworking, cheerful, gentle man he was.
A few weeks later he told me about his hearing. They wouldn't enter my letter into evidence because it wasn't notorized. "Anybody could have written it." Then they forced him to admit that he had done something wrong and had suspended him for a certain amount of time (I forget how much). I think they might have fined him too--I forget.
Anyway, Mr. E. never did show up for any of the appointments that the attorney set up through the school office (!).
OK. There was a lot of Union involvement here. First of all the Custodian's Union allowed a principal to retaliate against one of their brothers for simply telling the truth. Secondly, the UFT allowed one of its members to bring bogus charges against a custodian (union brother) in order to help the principal retaliate against him for telling the truth. I'm not sure which teacher brought the charges--Mr. E. didn't want to tell me. I always assumed it was Mr. G. who was assigned to that room and would have been the first to find Mr. E.'s note when he came in the day after the flood. But I have no proof, and have to admit it could have been someone else. Somewhere there are written records.
Without the collusion of Local 891, International Union of Operating Engineers who, according to their website, put children first and of the United Federation of Teachers, a union of professionals--without the collusion of both unions, Mr. E. might have been able to tell his story to K.N.'s attorney.
Both unions should have praised him for giving a true statement in support of a union sister, and protected him against retaliation instead of stepping back and allowing him to be fined and suspended for doing so.