Educator Survival Guide
Disclaimer: The Site cannot and does not contain legal advice. The legal information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of legal advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this site is solely at your own risk.
*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 and 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 six 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 the General Counsel.
You are outnumbered and outbudgeted, but fear not.
All hope is not lost.
If you take anything away from this page, it is the word “Document.“ Document everything! DOCUMENT!!!
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” (i.e., any Android, Apple iPhone, Samsung, etc., that has a camera, voice recorder feature, and is Internet-enabled).
APPLICATIONS: 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 five 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.
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 five-minute time limit or something like that.
You can also use an iPhone’s “Voice Memos” app within the “Utilities” icon to record conversations. If you do, be sure to place the iPhone into “Airplane Mode” before commencing the recording to prevent a random incoming phone call from ending the recording. Remember to take the iPhone out of “Airplane Mode” afterward. If you intend on making many recordings and storing them on your iPhone, make sure that you have adequate memory space. You should email the recordings to yourself and store them on your non-DOE computer.
Make copies of everything. Again you can use Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud to upload your 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 flash drive. Not only can you lose it, but it can fall into the wrong hands. “Yo! Check out what’s on this flash drive I found. It’s a video of AP Smith erasing test bubble sheets and changing answers.” Have copies of everything in several locations.
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…”
FOIL: Because our schools are part of a government agency (DOE), 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. You can get started here or by emailing FOIL@schools.nyc.gov
PERB Improper Practice Charge (IPC): PERB stands for the Public Employment Relations Board. It’s the NY State Board that makes sure that the unions and employers play nice in the sandbox. Filing an IPC is free, and you can have people answer questions under oath in a hearing room in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Remember there are 300+ lawyers and 200+ accountability experts in the DOE…and then there is you.
Look at DOE’s Office of Labor Relations Frequently Asked Questions supervisory staff manual: DOE’s Office of Labor Relations put out a very detailed FAQ manual for principals and other supervisors in April 2007. It’s almost like a School Supervisors for Dummies “How To” book. It is a revision and expansion of an earlier edition dated October 2004. Here it is:
If you have any questions about this manual, feel free to contact Karen Solimando, Esq., at KSolimando@schools.nyc.gov She is the Director of DOE’s Office of Labor Relations. If you wish to phone her, her number is (212) 374-7990.
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 the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI), Office of Special Investigations (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 or offices.
You can try Suggesting an Audit through the Comptroller’s Office. You can also try contacting State or Federal agencies such as www.nysed.gov or www.ed.gov/misused before contacting your local investigative bodies. If DOE attorneys are involved in advising or participating in malfeasance, then you can file an ethics complaint against them with the appropriate Attorney Grievance Committee:
Manhattan or Bronx attorneys: https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/ad1/Committees&Programs/DDC/AGC%20Complaint%20Form%2007.30.2020.pdf
Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island attorneys: https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/ad2/attorneymatters_ComplaintAboutaLawyer.shtml
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 family member with a different last name or a reliable friend to make the reports.
However, with respect to attorney ethics complaints, it is a Court requirement that the complainant’s actual name be used and that it be signed.
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!”
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 official school file, BUT we can add rebuttal letters that get attached. When signing a disciplinary letter, 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.”
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. Do not mention names of, or material that would identify, specific students. You may refer to Student A, Student B, Student C, etc. Take a look at some of the reports and referral letters that were posted on the website of the Special Commissioner of Investigation to get an idea of how that agency writes up investigative findings.