January 27th, 2010

real me

"zero tolerance" in schools

How come people successfully get all up in arms about ridiculous punishments for students in schools (month-long suspensions for having aspirin in a backpack, that sort of thing), when due process is denied for a teacher as in this story from The New Yorker piece on "rubber rooms"?

Steve Ostrin, who was assigned to a Brooklyn Rubber Room fifty-three months ago, might be that innocent man whom the current process protects. In 2005, a student at Brooklyn Tech, an élite high school where Ostrin was an award-winning social-studies teacher, accused him of kissing her when the two were alone in a classroom. After her parents told the police, Ostrin was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child. He denied the charge, insisting that he was only joking around with the student and that the principal, who didn’t like him, seized upon the incident to go after him. The tabloids ran headlines about the arrest, and found a student who claimed that a similar thing had happened to her years before, though she had not reported it to the police. But many of Ostrin’s students didn’t believe the allegations. They staged a rally in support of him at the courthouse where the trial was held. Eleven months later, he was acquitted.

Nevertheless, the city refused to allow him to return to class. “Sometimes if they are exonerated in the courts we still don’t put them back,” Cerf said, adding that he was not referring to Ostrin in particular. “Our standard is tighter than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ What would parents think if we took the risk and let them back in a classroom?”
Where's the outrage here? Should there be outrage, or is the administration justified in leaving him in the "rubber room"? If they're justified in sending him into exile, should they be justified in firing him?

The article goes on to call this case "a distraction from the real issue," but I think it's instructive here. The rubber room is an end-run around protections provided for teachers. It takes away the substance of the protections, leaving them with only protection for their paycheck. It also gives them a terrible choice: stay on the payroll of the city, collecting a paycheck in exchange for hours of boredom and stagnation, or leave, admitting guilt, and having no expectation of ever getting to perform the job they love.

Ok, this is a gross assumption, but... at least some of the rubber roomers are in this boat, I'm willing to bet.

It's indisputable that New York's rubber room system is broken. It's schizophrenic in that it has due process for the paycheck, but not for the job...