Sunday, November 11, 2007

If a President can Lie, so can a Principal

My "U" rating was not just about my lesson plans, or my teaching ability, or my salary, or my age, or my political views. It really started with my reaction to a frameup.

Another teacher, K.N., was framed for child endangerment. She spent all last year in a Rubber Room Gulag. She was offered a deal--admit to a lesser crime, and pay a fine and you can keep your job. She accepted the deal, and signed an affadvit swearing to never speak of the matter again. She could have returned to her school, but she refused. She is now an ATR. Case closed.

When K.N. was first accused, she went to a private lawyer, and I went with her. At some point during the interview, I said, "But the principal lied, and we can prove it!". The lawyer replied: "Everybody knows that President Bush lied about the Weapons of Mass Destruction, and no one cares, so why should anyone care if a principal lies?"

The lawyer was right of course. A web of lies had reached from the loftiest office of the land down to our lowly little school in Queens. That just shows why public leaders should to be held to very high standards.

Representative Kucinich has just introduced a motion to impeach the Vice President. The fact that his motion was not automatically tabled, shows that there is a glimmer of hope that we can turn this country around.

K.N. does not want her case reopened. She wants to get on with her life, and put the nightmare behind her. But I am going to write about her case anyway. (Sorry K.N.). We are all victims of the trickle down effect of Washington's lies. This is not just about one teacher's sad story. What happened to her can happen to anyone, as long as liars rule.

So here begins the telling of THE PRINCIPAL'S LIE

K.N. was standing in the doorway of her classroom at the beginning of 5th period, as all teachers were required to do. She was expected to supervise not only the students in the hall, but also her seventh graders who were already in the classroom. The hallway was extremely crowded, because the school itself was overcrowded. We were on double session, but this didn't keep the halls from being regularly converted into mosh pits by squealing students who gleefully pushed one another back and forth when they got caught in a traffic jam.

The administration's answer to this problem, was to get the students from classroom A to classroom B as soon as possible (3 minutes) and then to keep them out of the hallways until the students had to move to classroom C. Regular "sweeps" were made to pick up lagging students who were then "written up". Bathrooms were locked during the first two periods and the last two periods of the day (a period lasted 45 minutes). Bathrooms were also locked during the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of each period. Aides sat outside the bathrooms writing down the names of the students who entered and the teachers who had given the passes. Teachers were "written up" if they failed to mark students late, or if they gave too many passes to the bathroom. Principal S.T. regularly got on the loud speaker and irritably reminded teachers to stop giving passes during the prohibited times.

So in this environment, K.N. was trying to get her students into the classroom as quickly as possible. A few girls were playing around down the hallway--putting off going to the classroom until the last possible minute. A boy named J.F. came running up from the opposite direction. He pushed past K.N., and in doing so he tripped and almost fell, but he recovered his balance at the last moment. He must have presented a comic figure to the children in the classroom, because they all laughed at him. Perhaps to cover his embarrassment at his own clumsiness, J.F. shouted," Ms. N. made me trip".

Just as the bell rang, five or six girls tried to run into the classroom at the last moment, but K.N. stopped them and dutifully placed an "L" for Late next to each name in her attendance book. The girls were incensed. They argued that they weren't late because they had gotten to the door as the bell was ringing. K.N. told them to sit down, but one of the girls--the leader of the group--left the class without a pass saying that that she had to talk to her counselor.

A month later K.N. was called into the principal's office. J.F.'s mother was there. It seems that J.F. had complained that he had been tripped by K.N., and he had six witnesses to prove it. Now it was K.N.'s turn to be incensed. She had done no such thing! But there were witnesses, insisted the mother. K.N. consulted her attendance book. The so-called witnesses weren't even in the classroom at the time--they were the girls who had run up to the door just as the bell rang. When the meeting ended, K.N. felt that she had established her innocence.

A couple of months passed. K.N. received a letter saying that a Chancellor's Investigator was coming to the school to hold a hearing about charges of child endangerment. She was told by the UFT that she would be represented by Ms. Baker, but Ms. Baker was unavailable until the day of the hearing. K.N. saw her for perhaps three minutes before the hearing started.

The Investigator asked her about the incident with J.F., and K.N. told the same story she told the principal and the mother. Then the Investigator started asking her about a second incident. K.N. realized that she had been brought up on two charges. She was hearing about the second one with no warning at all.

The second charge involved a child named Karl. Karl had come into K.N.'s third period class one day asking to go to the bathroom. She told him that she would give him a pass in ten minutes as soon as the bathrooms were open. Now remember, Karl had already been sitting for two periods in math class with no access to the bathroom, because all bathrooms were locked during the first two periods of the day. When he had asked his math teacher for a pass to the bathroom, she had said the same thing that K.N. did--bathrooms are locked. But Karl couldn't wait. He had diarrhea--a detail which he failed to mention to K.N.--perhaps because he was already running out the door in an attempt to keep from having an accident. But the bathrooms were locked, remember? The aides were not yet sitting next to the door. There was no one to unlock the bathrooms--none of the teachers had keys. So poor Karl had a very messy accident. And poor K.N. took the fall for it.

K.N. told the Chancellor's Investigator that she didn't know that the child had an emergency. She told him that she had no way of opening the bathroom door, because she had no key. The Investigator called the principal and asked her about the bathrooms. Were they indeed locked? NO, answered the principal. BATHROOMS ARE NEVER LOCKED.

K.N. told the Investigator that all he had to do was to go down the hallway and look at the bathroom door. There was a huge sign that read:


Bathrooms Closed: Period 1,2,8,9 & Homeroom

Per. 3- 10:03 – 10:31
Per. 4- 10:52 – 11:20
Per. 5- 11:41 – 12:09
Per. 6- 12:30 - 12:58
Per. 7- 1:19 - 1:47

The principal hadn't even bothered to take the signs down. Why should she? The Investigator refused to get up and go look, as the principal knew he would. Ms. Baker, who was there to represent K.N., said and did absolutely nothing.

So because a child tripped and almost fell, and because a child couldn't get into a locked bathroom, K.N. spent a year in the Rubber Room Gulag.

No, I didn't leave anything out. There were no other incidents. No other crimes. I read the charges. I went with her to the lawyer. I swear those were the only incidents.

If a teacher can be sent to a Rubber Room Gulag on charges like those, none of us are safe. And I think that the principal did that to K.N., because she wants us to feel that way. Unsafe. The principal has the power to ruin our lives.

But my life is already ruined, because I can't stand the thought of such a horrible injustice being done to someone who had done nothing bad to anyone--including J.F., Karl, and the principal. It knaws at me. People don't understand why I can't let it go. The District Representative, just the other day said, "You're not K.N.'s mother--let it go".

I can't. I don't think that the principal of a New York City Public School should have that much power. And it isn't just my principal. She isn't a trend setter. She isn't a loose cannon. She is very much a team player. She is doing exactly what she is told to do by higher ups. She wouldn't still be principal otherwise.


I don't know why the UFT is putting up with this. I don't know why New Yorkers are putting up with this. I don't know why Americans are putting up with this.

I have told this story over and over. I wrote to the Chancellor's Investigator offering to send him the sign that was still on the door. I wrote to Randi Weingarten. I wrote to The New York City Teacher's Advocacy Group. I signed all letters with my real name.

I am going to keep writing. It's not OK to frame teachers. This is not going to go away.

Those in power are abusing that power and that means that THEY need to go away--preferably to a specially prepared RUBBER ROOM GULAG just for them.