In an Op-Ed in the NY Times and featured prominently in the Times' Schoolbook section today is a piece by Chancellor Walcott calling for the state to grant him the authority to fire teachers for alleged sexual misconduct, regardless of the outcome of investigations and arbitration. It's so full of holes that it needs to be rebutted, so here goes.
It centers around a predictable ploy, the argumentum ad populum that we need to rid ourselves of sexual predators in the schools. Of course, we do--no one would argue against that other than perhaps predators themselves. The question, however, is not whether we should do this, but how.
Walcott begins by discussing two cases in which teachers "stand accused" of sexual misconduct. He never goes deeper than that, hoping that the reader will assume that the accusations are true. I don't know whether they are or not, but I do know that teachers are subject to arrest for such actions if there is sufficient proof, and subject to an arbitration trial for dismissal even if charges are never brought. This is as it should be; even if there is insufficient evidence for a criminal proceeding, there needs to be a mechanism to remove teachers who may not be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, as the courts require, but may appear guilty by a preponderance of the evidence and removed via arbitration.
This isn't enough for the chancellor. He wants the ability to fire accused teachers regardless of whether there is any substantial evidence against them. He wants to fire teachers who were never criminally charged, and who were found not guilty through arbitration. In other words, he wants the power to fire teachers based on an accusation, even if the courts and an independent arbitrator find no merit to the case whatsoever.
He bases his need for this power on two ideas: That arbitration doesn't work, and that teachers receive protections that no one else has. Let's tackle both of those assertions.
First, Walcott says, "An arbitrator knows that if he makes a ruling that disappoints either
party he might be barred from future cases. This interest in pleasing
both sides can lead an arbitrator to “split the baby,” for instance by
offering some punishment (in hopes of pleasing the school district) but
also some leniency (in hopes of pleasing the teachers’ union)."
Think of what Walcott is really saying here. He is saying that an independent arbitrator, who believes in his heart that a teacher is guilty of sexual misconduct against children, will nevertheless return that teacher to the classroom to prey on students again just to please the city and the union. It's an outrageous statement on the face of it. Furthermore, if the city really believed that arbitrators were knowingly sending sexual deviants back into the classroom, why on earth would they continue to hire those arbitrators? Remember, both the union AND the city must approve arbitrators, so if Walcott is correct, what he is saying is that the city knowingly agrees to hire arbitrators who send sexual predators back into the classroom. And since he is in charge of the DOE, the buck must stop with him. He is as guilty as anyone of what he claims is true.
His next argument is that teachers receive protections in this area that others don't. He says, "As it stands, public school teachers accused of sexual misconduct enjoy protections that no other city employee has." While this may be true, the question really is "What other city employee needs such protection?" How many sanitation workers and toll booth clerks get accused of sexual misconduct each year? Very few, I'd wager, as they don't come into contact with children in the same number or manner as teachers. It is all too simple for a child to make an accusation against a teacher because they got a bad grade or got yelled at. I have also personally seen cases in which teachers were set up by principals and children were coerced into making statements that they later recanted. So we need that special protection. We don't need bullet proof vests like police officers, nor fireproof uniforms like firefighters, but we do need, like those professionals, to be guarded from the particular hazards we do face.
To complete his attack on teachers, Walcott just plays fast and loose with the facts. For example, he used the case of a teacher accused of touching an 8 year old girl today to claim that he needs the authority to fire teachers accused of sexual misconduct. What he does not say is that the city already has the power to fire teachers who are arrested and convicted of such charges, so if this teacher is indeed guilty, he will never see the inside of a classroom again, and certainly will never face an arbitrator. He will be in jail. That is how the system is supposed to work.
Walcott's power grab reminds me of how GW Bush pushed through the Patriot Act and justified torture and two wars following 9/11. Bush tried to scare people into believing there was a terrorist on every street corner, and if we didn't cede our rights to the federal government, we were just begging for another terrorist attack. Likewise, Walcott is using a small number of incidents to scare parents and the legislature into giving him unprecedented power--not to "punish" the guilty, as he claims, but to go on witch hunts against teachers who were not only not criminally charged, but cleared by arbitrators hired in part by the DOE itself.
I did a little research to see if any of Walcott's histrionics were justified. Schoolbook claims that there have been ten arrests of school employees (not just teachers) this year. That is 10 arrests per 120,000 employees. That, of course, is unacceptable--even one is unacceptable. But according to the US Department of Justice, that number is actually low. For example, in large cities like New York in 1995, there were 80 arrests per 100,000 people for rape or other sexual offenses. Yet your don't hear Walcott or Bloomberg calling for a suspension of due process for the general population. As far as they are concerned, teachers are the villains--first, last, and always.
Is it really surprising though, that Bloomberg would support this power grab? His "stop and frisk" policies are right out of the fascist playbook, effectively making being black and mobile a crime in NYC. Mayor4Life doesn't believe in rights for anyone but himself. While you can't drink a 20 ounce Coke or defend yourself against baseless charges in this city, the mayor can buy himself an illegal 3rd term and land his helicopter wherever he pleases.
Dennis Walcott seems to have embraced all the Napoleonic leanings of his boss. And the teachers of NY are the ones who have to pay.