Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Dismissal of a teacher rated satisfactory for 18 consecutive years until assigned to a special education class overturned as “shocking to the court’s sense of fairness”


Dismissal of a teacher rated satisfactory for 18 consecutive years until assigned to a special education class overturned as “shocking to the court’s sense of fairness”
2014 NY Slip Op 05032, Appellate Division, First Department

A licensed common branches and special education teacher [Teacher] had been employed by the New York City Department of Education for more than 21 years when he was terminated in 2011. He had received satisfactory ratings for 18, Teacher was then assigned to a self-contained special education class comprised of 12 students who were chronologically fourth, fifth, sixth, graders, but who were functioning at two and three years below grade level. The principal of the school rated Teacher unsatisfactory. Teacher's request to be assigned to another class or, in the alternative, be assigned an aide or assistant, was denied.

Teacher was again assigned the same class with the same group of students for three consecutive years, until the older students completed the eighth grade. He was rated as unsatisfactory all three years he taught this class based in part on his inability to control the classroom and his inability to plan and effectively execute certain lessons. His requests to be assigned to a different class were repeatedly denied, although various teachers and administrators were purported to advise him as to how to improve his performance. Teacher was also criticized for “failing to follow the Teacher's College Workshop Model lessons, even though the Workshop Model made no provisions for students with learning disabilities.”

Served with disciplinary charges, the Hearing Officer determined that Teacher was guilty of seven out of nine of the specified charges spanning a three-year period. Although the Hearing Officer acknowledged that Teacher had attempted to improve his performance by working with a mentor and participating in the Peer Intervention Plus Program (PIP Plus), the Hearing Officer deemed his performance to be unsatisfactory.

Teacher contended that the remediation efforts were inadequate as he never received organized or consistent lessons from his peers and that they usually consisted of rushed, disorganized, and informal hallway meetings. He also contended that the assistance he received from the assistant principals was uncoordinated and often contradictory. As an example, Teacher said that he had sought help designing a lesson from one assistant principal but when a different assistant principal observed the lesson that the first assistant principal had prepared with him, the second one rated it as unsatisfactory “because the lesson failed to follow a specific structure established by written guidelines.”

Although the Appellate Division said that it did not dispute the specific findings of the Hearing Officer concerning Teacher's deficiencies in the management of this one special education class, it found that under the circumstances presented here the penalty of termination shocked its sense of fairness.

The court said that it was troubled “to see [the Department of Educations] apparent determination to terminate [Teacher], a 21-year veteran with 18 years of satisfactory ratings, because of his difficulty with one class in which he was kept for three years.

Finding that the Hearing Officer's decision to dismiss Teacher to be manifestly disproportionate to his conduct, the Appellate Division remand the matter “for the imposition of a lesser penalty.”

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