AM I PROBLEM CODED IN THE DOE’S ONLINE SYSTEM?
BY MEMBER SUPPORT
It goes by many different names: the Ineligible List, red flag, notation, code, problem code, OPI Code, or a block.
These are all strategies the Department of Education’s Office of Personnel Investigation (OPI) use in order to control who is “active” or “inactive” in the DOE. Because of the DOE’s centralized bureaucracy and computer system, when you are “coded” for any particular thing (an adverse rating such as “Ineffective,” “Developing,” or “Unsatisfactory,” a Discontinuance of Probationary Service, a Denial of Certification of Completion of Probation [a.k.a. Denial of Tenure], reassignment to a Reassignment Center [a.k.a. “Rubber Room”], resignation while charges are pending, termination after a trial of charges, or fingerprint issues, among other things) this code can be viewed by any DOE administrator or any payroll secretary with access to the Employee Information System (EIS) database.
If you are a tenured pedagogue who had been brought up on Education Law § 3020-a charges, had a § 3020-a hearing, were not terminated, but received a lesser form of discipline, then you automatically become an ATR (i.e., a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve) and are assigned an OPI Code on your EIS file. Essentially, this means that your electronic file has been tagged with a “problem code.” The Chaz’s School Daze blog, in an August 3, 2014 post, “DOE Wastes Over A Billion Dollars In Trying To Get ATRs To Leave The System,” stated:
“Moreover, the DOE apparently told the New York Post that “ALL TEACHERS WHO WENT THROUGH THEIR 3020-a PROCESS AND WON HAVE A PROBLEM CODE ON THEIR FILE! That’s right the ATRs have their own “Scarlet Letter”! That means that principals who look at an ATR’s file will see the “red flag” on the file and will not offer the vacancy to the teacher no matter how qualified the teacher is.”
This means that any principal, AP, or payroll secretary can see the scarlet letter that you were once up for termination but avoided the guillotine once they type in your Social Security Number (SSN), File Number, and last name into EIS, because they all have access to that database.
If you have a case or complaint lodged against you — resulting in an Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI), School-Based Investigation (SBI), or even an arrest by the NYPD (regardless if the charges or complaint are substantiated or not, or regardless if the arrest led to a conviction or not), you are going to have an OPI Code added to your EIS file. If you have been discontinued from probationary service or denied tenure from the DOE, you will have an OPI Code. It may be possible for a teacher to be rehired with a Discontinuance of Probationary Service or Denial of Tenure coded on his or her file. Such a teacher will have to be really, really, really lucky to have a principal who is so enamored by him or her that they will ignore the advice of their District’s Senior Field Counsel (who works for DOE’s Office of the General Counsel) who will be more likely than not to raise questions and offer commentary, “Are you sure that you really want this person? Look at their baggage! They will be a pain in the rear to attach to the position in Galaxy — too much hassle and paperwork for all of us! Let’s try someone else….There, that’s much better!” Remember, in order to be hired, you need the approval of various individuals including the principal, the Senior Field Counsel, and the District’s Human Resources Director. If you cannot make it past a Community School District (for teachers below the level of high school) or a Borough Superintendency (such as Queens North, Brooklyn South, etc., for high school teachers), DOE’s Division of Human Capital at 65 Court Street in Brooklyn will never know you were nominated for a job!
The code will NOT be removed from your e-record in EIS automatically or by a DOE administrator unless YOU do something (and this usually means filing an Article 78 litigation pursuant to the Civil Practice Law and Rules) about it.
The DOE doesn’t like talking about it! Heck, Unity Caucus doesn’t like talking about it! Question someone in OPI about the “Ineligible/Inquiry List” and they’ll claim it doesn’t exist. (And that could actually be a matter of semantics because, at the time this article was posted, the current lingo is “OPI Code.”) Case in point: Philomena Brennan was a teacher who filed an Article 78 to withdraw her resignation and get her name off the “Ineligble/Inquiry List.”
Read the judicial decision in Brennan v. New York City Department of Education (2010 NY Slip Op 31807[U]) for the details:
However, let us now return to the point of this post. How can I find out if I have a potential notation/flag/OPI Code attached to my name/SSN/FN on EIS?
The first step is figuring out whether you have a notation/flag/OPI Code on your EIS file. Now let’s distinguish your e-record on EIS compared to the physical file(s) which your principal keeps on you in the school (and that you should be requesting to view regularly. I’m looking at you, probationers!) and that should ideally get photocopied and sent to 65 Court Street for a yearly update (doesn’t always happen, folks). Your personnel file does not contain everything on you — especially if you were the subject of a “secret investigation” (Yes, sometimes you can be investigated for charges and no one will tell you!) or that you’ve been “flagged” and are ineligible for employment in a DOE school or by a DOE vendor.
So, call Katherine Rodi, Esq.’s office. Ms. Rodi’s official title is “Executive Director, Office of Employee Relations at NYC Department of Education” (according to Ms. Rodi’s LinkedIn account):
Although not mentioned in her LinkedIn profile, she’s in charge of informing other personnel which employees have a problem code and which ones don’t. You can send Ms. Rodi an email (KRodi@schools.nyc.gov) with your name, SSN, and file number. She may not respond right away or at all. Her office is at 65 Court Street #200 in Brooklyn. If you go in person to DOE’s Division of Human Capital, and ask if you have a notation/flag/OPI Code on your EIS file, they may not grant you an appointment. The best solution is to call Ms. Rodi’s office number: (718) 935-2849. Early morning or late afternoon is best. Have your File Number handy. Be prepared to give it and your last name to the secretary. Might be good to record the conversation (Yes, it’s legal in NY!).
You may be told that you are coded as having been discontinued or you may be told, “It says ‘Problem: Problem Code…No, sir/ma’am, there’s no other letters or numbers next to it.” Or, the secretary may say that she/he sees nothing out of the ordinary on your EIS file. Your next step is to use the Freedom of Information Law. You can FOIL your personnel file. But you knew that already.
Did you know that you can use FOIL as a tool to get screenshots of your e-records from EIS, Galaxy, NYCAPS, OGC (Office of the General Counsel = “Legal”; Howard Friedman, Esq.’s office), OSI (Office of Special Investigations; Ilene Lees, Esq.’s office, which is part of OGC), OLR (Office of Labor Relations; Karen Solimando, Esq.’s office, which is part of OGC), and OAR (Office of Appeals and Reviews; JoAnn Rabot’s office, which is part of OLR/OGC)? You do now! This is not to imply that every single record containing your name or other identifier will be made accessible. But, if not, you have the right to an administrative appeal, and can later go to court if you want to pursue a denial of access that’s issued on appeal. Here’s a how-to:
Step 1: Review the how-to FOIL guide: https://dtoe.org/2018/04/02/what-is-foil-how-can-i-use-foil-to-help-me) You can also go here for a more “official” guide. Review these links before you proceed.
Step 2: Get ready to format your FOIL request. In the text of your email, after the salutation and the “Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, I am requesting the following…” type the following:
please send me copies, in color and by email, of the following records:
- All information about YOUR NAME (File #: _______) in the EIS, NYCAPS, GALAXY, OSI, OLR, OGC, and OAR databases. (Full-color screenshots or scans of full-color printouts from each of those databases will be adequate.)
Then be prepared to wait. A while. Feel free to send out reminder emails to Records Access Officer Joseph A. Baranello, Esq., and his gang, and send out appeal letters to Records Appeals Officer Howard Friedman, Esq., if it’s been two months and no screenshots. Eventually, you’ll get the following from EIS:
This tells your employment history in the DOE, what schools you were assigned to, and the licensed position you had.
Take a note at the little pink rectangle next to 07/15/13 (the date this person was discontinued from the DOE). This is the “red flag” the blogging community talks about (Well, it’s more like lilac but you get the picture!). There’s more though.
Can you find the problem code?
Well, did you find it? There’s a section for problem codes to be listed (see the white “Problem” about 4-5 lines down on the left side of the screenshot?). This is WHY it is so very important that you ask for the screenshots to be in color. For this person, there is no specific number or letter assigned to their problem code. But the proof is in the pudding. That’s it.
(You may also be sent screenshots from the various other databases you listed.)
So, you discover you have a problem code? Now what?
Well, I suggest you hire a lawyer or paralegal. If I were you, I’d want that code off my record. You’ll need some help in filing your Article 78 since there is a Statute of Limitations on filing. You have just four months from the time you get those screenshots back from the DOE FOIL Unit to file an Article 78 to get those OPI Codes (or whatever the latest terminology is) lifted.
One of our members of Steering in DTOE filed a FOIL request for their EIS color screenshots. When this person went to court….boy, did they stun the judge and the Assistant Corporation Counsel assigned to the case with their awareness. Finding out about their “hidden” problem code (This person had suspected but never had the proof to prove they had a notation/red flag/OPI Code attached to their EIS e-record.) really helped them out in court.
Maybe this knowledge will help you out too.
Here is a link to a DOE publication entitled Payroll Secretaries & Timekeepers On-Line Payroll Handbook: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aOuB8zQQ5ex4AXqdg2T7lkpLcc9LL-6e/view?usp=sharing
If you look at page 24 within the “Substitute Eligibility” section, you will see “PB,” a problem code violation and “FP,” a fingerprint violation. These are examples of “violation codes.” There is also a mention that OPI can review a violation and approve service.
Although the images in the handbook come from the Per Diem System, the Employee Information System uses a system of OPI Codes as well.
This handbook is only one indication that DOE has established a system of “problem codes.” These codes will prevent principals from hiring certain individuals either as per diem subs or as appointed teachers. OPI is authorized to “review” the codes and make decisions regarding them.