COMMENT: As the Court of Appeals indicated in Holt, a “counseling memorandum” that is given to an employee and placed in his or her personnel file concerning unacceptable performance and the actions that should be taken by the individual to improve his or her work constitutes a lawful means of instructing the employee.
In Matter of Fusco, Comm. of Ed. Decision 14,396 and Matter of Irving, Comm. of Ed. Decision 14,373, the Commissioner of Education found that the alleged "critical comment" exceeded the parameters circumscribing "lawful instruction" concerning unacceptable performance.
In Fusco’s case, the Commissioner said that “contents of the [counseling] memorandum” did not fall within the parameters of a “permissible evaluation” despite the school board’s claim that the memorandum was "intended to encourage positive change" in Fusco’s performance. The Commissioner noted that the memorandum "'contains no constructive criticism or a single suggestion for improvement." Rather, said the Commissioner, the memorandum focused on "castigating [Fusco] for prior alleged misconduct."
In Irving’s case, a school principal was given a letter critical of her performance and the next day reassigned to another school where she was to serve as an assistant principal. The Commissioner ruled that these two actions, when considered as a single event, constituted disciplinary action within the meaning of Section 3020-a of the Education Law." .