'I've been in detention for years - and I'm a teacher'
First Person: David Pakter reveals how he must wait in
New York's so-called rubber rooms to clear his name
As told to Cian Traynor in London
Published: January 2 2010 00:42 | Last updated: January 2 2010 00:42
When I began teaching in New York City 37 years ago, if you were reported for serious misconduct, you were sent to a Board of Education office until the matter was resolved. But as the system grew, removing teachers from the classroom became standard for even the most trivial offence. The board’s offices got so crowded they began leasing buildings around the city to use as “reassignment centres”, nicknamed “rubber rooms”.
As many as 800 to 1,000 teachers are in rubber rooms on any given day; it’s an academic Guantánamo Bay. Many go stir-crazy. Brooklyn’s Chapel Street rubber room is huge but so crowded that people are almost falling out of the windows.
When I was first sent to one of these rubber rooms, it took me six months to establish what the complaints were. Meanwhile, like everyone else, I turned up every day, kept the same hours and received my salary. But there was nothing to do except wait. It’s known as constructive termination.
When I started teaching in New York City, I worked at a school that was one of the jewels in the crown of the school system. As the years went by, the curriculum was whittled down. We taught four languages when I started, but gradually it became just another fifth-rate school. Eventually, Spanish was the only foreign language taught – in a school where most kids are Hispanic.
I began teaching medical illustration as part of my art course and tried to attract the most gifted kids. I wanted to fill in the gaps and eventually I was teaching them about opera, ballet, philosophy and astronomy. I devoted the last 10 minutes of each day to French – I bought the books myself.
Word got around and other students wanted to learn French. Parents were calling the school. It was an unworkable situation and I was ordered to stick to the medical illustration.
In 2004, the term had just started when I saw a woman setting up a music room. I assumed that my complaining had paid off, but the class was for the adjacent primary school – they were expanding into our building.
I finally discovered that the reasons for my being sent to the rubber room were “fundraising activities and collection of money from students”. The allegation was thrown out, but the board of education has a right to send you for a psychiatric exam regardless. It took me a year to force the city to agree to an impartial medical arbitration. I was vindicated but by then everything I had built was torn apart. There was no one to take my place and, from what I’ve heard, some of my pupils never fulfilled their promise.
I was sent to a new school as a day-to-day substitute but soon they pulled me out again. It took a year before I found out what the new charges were: bringing plants to school without permission and giving watches I had designed myself to students on the honour roll – which constituted promotion of a private business. But the kids wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy them themselves.
I’ve been assigned to a rubber room in Harlem for the past two years – with no available drinking water, no natural light, no plants and poor ventilation – just waiting to clear my name.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
David Pakter has filed Lawsuits in the United States Federal Court,
( United States District Court, Southern District of New York )
The New York City Department of Education, naming 15 Defendants
Mr. Pakter is represented in the Federal Court by
Dr. Joy Hochstadt, Esq.
Mr. Pakter is also represented in New York State 3020-a Hearings by NYSUT Attorney,
Christopher M. Callagy, Esq.
Further information related to story in the Financial Times