On eve of termination, unplaced Teaching Fellows get extra time

With less than 24 hours to go before they were due to be fired, nearly 90 new teachers learned tonight that because of legal action by the teachers union, they’ll keep their jobs — for now.

When they accepted their admission into the Teaching Fellows program, new teachers signed a contract agreeing to termination if they failed to secure a job at a school by Dec. 5. The United Federation of Teachers contends that the Teaching Fellows’ contract violates the UFT’s own collective-bargaining agreement, which prohibits layoffs in all but the most extreme economic conditions.

Today, the UFT won a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education that prevents the DOE from firing the Teaching Fellows until at least Tuesday, when a judge will hear the union’s arguments about the validity of the Teaching Fellows’ contracts. According to an e-mail sent by the UFT to unplaced Teaching Fellows this evening, the union believes the teachers should be kept on the DOE’s payroll at least until the end of the school year.

Teaching Fellows have been required to agree to similar deadlines in the past, but only a handful of new teachers have ever been unplaced at the termination date. This year, 88 teachers have still not been hired by schools. At least two factors likely contributed to this year’s increase in unplaced Teaching Fellows: a larger-than-normal number of available experienced teachers who had been working at schools that closed, and cautious spending by principals concerned about budget cuts.

Unplaced Teaching Fellows this evening received a short e-mail from Vicki Bernstein, head of the DOE’s Teaching Fellows program, announcing the change:

Due to pending litigation regarding the deadline for finding a school position outside of the Teacher Reserve, you will be able to remain in the Reserve after tomorrow. We expect to have further information next week and will keep you informed accordingly about your status in the Fellows program and as an employee. For now, you should plan on continuing to report to your Teacher Reserve assignment until otherwise notified.

Below the jump, UFT President Randi Weingarten’s e-mail to unassigned Teaching Fellows:

With you and 87 other unassigned teaching fellows facing termination tomorrow, the union went to court today to seek an injunction to save your jobs. I’m pleased to announce that the judge hearing our case has issued a temporary restraining order against the DOE until we can make arguments before her on Tuesday. Because the UFT/DOE collective-bargaining agreement prohibits layoffs except in the event of a citywide fiscal emergency, it’s our view that the DOE does not have the authority to terminate you. We have asked the DOE to issue an expedited decision in the grievance that we filed on your behalf so we can take the case to arbitration. The union also plans to file a complaint shortly with the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) contending that the pre-employment contract you were required to sign is not enforceable because it contradicts the UFT/DOE collective-bargaining agreement. The school system was wrong to make promises to you that it couldn’t keep. Despite already having unassigned teachers in reserve, the Teaching Fellows program did not curtail its hiring this September and then offered little support to fellows seeking classroom placements. Many of you relocated and left secure jobs in other professions to teach our city’s neediest students. After rearranging your lives to make this career change, you are being turned out after a mere few months through no fault of your own and in violation of the collective-bargaining agreement. We believe that the DOE has an obligation to keep you through the end of the school year at the very least. Please know that we are doing everything we can to fight for you. Sincerely, Randi Weingarten UFT President