Members sent to ‘rubber rooms’ will receive fairer, more timely treatment
Jul 3, 2008 4:27 PM
In an important victory for members languishing unfairly in Department of Education temporary reassignment centers, the UFT and DOE have reached an agreement that will erase the backlog of teachers sent to a “rubber room” for alleged misconduct.

The agreement also makes the process fairer, as principals will be prohibited from removing a member from a school without DOE review and approval unless there are unusual circumstances.
“We were focusing on fairness and timelines because we know justice delayed is justice denied,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten, who added that she is hopeful the agreement will make the often-cruel TRC experience “more humane.”
Under the terms of the agreement, there will be an increase in the number of arbitration panel members — 28, instead of 20 — and as many as half of the panelists will deal solely on cases of alleged incompetence.
And, as there has been a backlog in contract grievances for years, there will be an increase of arbitration dates to 175 per year from the 140-date schedule that has existed for the past 20 years.
In another measure aimed at speeding the process, principals may testify under oath by phone — provided that a UFT district representative, or a union staff person sent in place of the DR, is in the room to make sure the principal isn’t referring to written material or being assisted by anyone during their testimony.
The DOE will provide any UFT member who is being reassigned a letter listing the general grounds for reassignment, and those already reassigned but not yet charged will also receive a letter listing the general grounds for their reassignment.
Effective immediately, the DOE must adhere to the following timelines, from the date of the reassignment, for affected employees:

• The amount of time for the chancellor’s Office of Special Investigations to conduct an investigation will be 90 days.
• The amount of time to transfer a criminal case to the Administrative Trials Unit will be 30 days.
• The amount of time for the DOE to draft 3020A charges will be 40 days.

Each year, a DOE-UFT committee will meet to discuss whether these timelines are being followed.
The DOE will have a central review process for reassignments and will provide the UFT with a list of reassignments weekly. If the UFT disagrees with any reassignment decisions, it can present objections to the Office of Labor Relations.
The UFT will also get a quarterly report all reassignments so that it can tell whether DOE is adhering to its own guidelines.
The DOE has already conducted a central review currently reassigned members and some members have been sent back to their schools.

Penalties for principals
If a principal reassigns a member without proper approval and doesn’t follow DOE procedures for doing so, central DOE will return the member to the school and the principal’s budget will be charged for the salary the member earned while reassigned.
Reassignments should never be used to retaliate against whistle-blowers or for any other illegal reason. Any employee, including a principal, who is found to have knowingly made false allegations against a member will face disciplinary action.
Wherever possible, members will be reassigned in the borough where they work.
Members who wish to do so will be permitted to perform duties or activities subject to the approval of a DOE supervisor, and each member will be provided workspace. The DOE will work with the UFT to comply with the Public Employee Safety and Health Act.
The DOE will evaluate cases of tenured teachers who receive U-ratings for poor performance and will, where it deems appropriate, refer those case to PIP Plus

3020a improvements
In addition to expanding the 3020a arbitration panel by 40 percent, the UFT and DOE will explore ways to speed up the process of getting transcripts of hearings, to shorten the hearing time.
The pre-hearing conference will facilitate more fairness for those preparing their cases, with members and their lawyers receiving evidence against them one week prior to the conference. Every effort will be made to make sure the member attends the pre-hearing conference. DOE will also attempt to have a representative authorized to settle the case present.