[DISCLAIMER: If you are teaching for July, August and every other vacation, have no intention of improving or being better, then please leave this page and think about going into a different field of work. We didn’t write this for you. The students deserve dedicated educators who are free from harassment.]
*This guide is geared towards NYC educators, but many of the recommendations can be used elsewhere.
Are you an educator who cares about the students, cares about your job, but are under attack? Do you feel helpless? If so, maybe this page can help. Why are you under attack? Perhaps you are just too old and making too much money. Your pension will be pretty substantial and your termination, resignation or retirement will help the city save money. Maybe it’s because you’re Hispanic, White, Black, Asian, or too vocal. Perhaps your administrators are jealous of you because you are 6 sizes smaller than them or the female staff members flirt with you. Quite possibly, you just simply questioned their actions (or lack of actions). It could be anything, but the fact is….you have been targeted. Now what?
Perhaps you have reached out to your Chapter Leader, your union reps, or even a lawyer. You have filed meaningless grievances (that are now denied at a rate of 98.8%) You may be a David going up against a Goliath. You see, your administrators are not actually that tough. They may be the worst kind of bullies – the bullies that need backing. You know, like that kid with the yellow eyes from “A Christmas Story“. That backing is the NYC Department of Education’s Office of General Counsel. You are outnumbered and outbudgeted, but fear not. All hope is not lost. Remain calm. If you take anything away from this page, it is the word “Document.“Document everything! DOCUMENT!!
Step 1: YOUR CELL PHONE WILL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND: If you have an old dumbphone, stop reading this for now, place the phone into a blender, and press “Puree”. Then go and buy a “smartphone” (ie. any Android, iPhone).
Step 2: APPS: You will need apps that allow you to record or make quick notes at a moment’s notice. Example : “On Jan 15th, I entered the principal’s office to discuss the lack of discipline in the school. They immediately ignored my request and asked for 5 weeks worth of lesson plans in addition to telling me they will be dropping in sometime in the next few weeks to check on me.” We recommend Google Drive or Evernote as they work across all operating systems.
Step 3: Audio Recording: In NY State we have a single consenting party law when it comes to recording conversations. At least one person in the conversation needs to know it’s being recorded. That could be you. http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/new-york-recording-law. If you are from another state, please check your local law. Don’t go buying a separate audio recorder, because it’s not as inconspicuous as a phone. If you go up to your bullies with a strange flower in your lapel, they may get suspicious. Just go to your phone’s App Store and type in “voice recorder”, test some out and make sure to check the settings so there isn’t a 5 min limit or something like that.
Step 4: Redundancy: Make copies of everything. Again you can use Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud to upload you files. Use your smartphone camera to make clear copies of documents that you then upload to your online file system. Do not rely on a flashdrive. Not only can you lose it, but it can fall in the wrong hands. “Yo! Check out what’s on this flashdrive I found. It’s a video of AP Smith erasing test bubble sheets and changing answers.” Have copies of everything in several locations. Call me paranoid, but at one point I pictured Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon kicking in my door and storming my house with all his investigators. 😉 Don’t ask why, but I think it had to do with two of his investigators coming to my house to confiscate equipment on February 28, 2012. That and I have a lot of evidence.
Sometimes you may have a verbal conversation with an administrator. You can always email them after and document the conversation. “Dear AP Smith, as per our conversation, on blah date, you indicated that I allow too many students to use the bathroom…”
Step 5: FOIL: Because our schools are funded by tax dollars, you have the right to request documents. Look up the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). You will be amazed at what records you can actually obtain. See examples here.
Step 6: Disciplinary Letters. It doesn’t matter if you are innocent. If they are after you, they will find you guilty. For some reason the UFT gave up the right for us to grieve letters in our file, BUT we can add rebuttal letters that get attached. When signing disciplinary letters write “Rebuttal to Follow” on it. We have heard of members writing other things on the signature page, such as “I am appealing this improper investigation.”
Step 7: Band Together: The union is you and your close colleagues. Band together! You are the 99%. Let the admin know that you have backing, because most are not intimidated by the UFT. Pick a day and have everyone wear blue, or some other color. “Courage is contagious!”
Step 8: BLOG about it: Depending on the severity of the situation, you may want to blog about it. Come up with a great name and buy the a domain name from webair.com, or some other site. Then use wordpress.com or blogspot.com and create a blog. Give the public a play by play of what is happening to you and your colleagues. Social media is our media. Do not defame anyone. Be careful what you write and back what you write with evidence.
Step 9: Twitter and Facebook: Tweet your story out there. Share it on Facebook as well. When we post a blog entry, it automatically tweets it to our followers as well as posts it on our Facebook page. We often tag @nycschools, media, the mayor, etc, that way their followers will see it too.
Step 10: Contact Authorities: DO NOT MAKE ANY FALSE ALLEGATIONS OR ALLEGATIONS YOU KNOW ARE DEFINITELY FALSE. There is no need to waste any more taxpayer money with investigators running around and charging the city for time, travel, subpoenas etc. You believe your bullies are involved in misconduct? Wait! You are a mandated reporter, but don’t just go contacting Special Commisioner of Investigation (SCI), Office of Special Investigation (OSI) or Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) right away. We’ve read too many stories where someone’s trouble really began after they reported misconduct to these agencies.
You can try Suggesting an Audit through the Comptroller’s Office. You can also try contacting on the state or federal level. www.nysed.gov or www.ed.gov/misused before contacting your local investigative bodies. If DOE lawyers are involved in advising malfeasance, then you can file an ethics complaint against the attorneys here http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/ad1/committees&programs/DDC/Complaint%20Form.pdf
Here is the trouble with anonymous reports….you can’t find out what’s going on and they can’t contact you for more information. If you want to be anonymous, find a friend or family member with different name to make the reports.
READ THIS ABOUT WHISTLEBLOWING –http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/html/report/faq.shtml
Step 11: Look at administrator’s HOW TO manual: The DOE Office of Labor Relations put out a very detailed Q and A manual for principals in April 2007. Almost like a “Principals for Dummies.” It is a revision and expansion of an earlier edition dated October 2004. Here it is: Frequently_asked_questions_–_doe_office_of_labor_relations_4-07
If you have any questions about this manual, feel free to contact Karen Solimando at KSolimando@schools.nyc.gov Director of the Office of Labor Relations. If you wish to phone her, her number is (212) 374-7990.
Step 12: PERB Complaint: PERB stand for the Public Employees Relations Board. It’s the NY State board that makes sure that the unions and employers play nice in the sandbox. It’s free and you can have people answer questions under oath on the stand in front of a judge.
Remember there are 300+ lawyers and 200+ accountability experts in the DOE…and then there is you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, YOU SHOULD REVIEW OUR ACCLAIMED UFT SOLIDARITY TOOLBOX uftsolidarity.org/toolbox