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Weiner evades issue dealing with sexual misconduct in schools

This week’s Anthony Weiner sex scandal had an odd side effect for the education policy debate in the mayor’s race. It caused AFT President Randi Weingarten to raise an issue that has been a thorn in the union’s side.

“So how can Anthony run for Mayor, when a teacher for the same conduct would be fired,” Weingarten said in a tweet yesterday.

She was referring to a push to tighten punishments for teachers found guilty of inappropriate behavior that the union here has opposed. Since 2007, the city has been unable to fire nearly 100 people working in schools for a variety of sexual indiscretions that range from verbal abuse to physical contact, according to the Daily News.

It’s a tiny fraction of one percent of the city’s 80,000-plus school staff, but a group of anti-union advocates have tried to make the issue a question in the mayor’s race, asking candidates if they support giving the city more power to fire people for sexual indiscretions.

Weiner is one of the candidates who hasn’t responded to a questionairre by the advocacy group pushing candidates to take a position on tightening the rules and his spokeswoman did not respond to GothamSchools’ questions. Getting caught for sending lewd pictures of himself to women is the type of behavior that would put Weiner in the city’s crosshairs if he were a teacher.

Union favorite Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, two opponents who have called for Weiner to resign from the race for his conduct, also did not respond to the questionnaire. They have not taken clear stands on the issues raised in the questionnaire.

Speaker Christine Quinn, who has not called for Weiner to resign, and Sal Albanese are the only Democratic candidates who have staked out clear positions. Both said they support legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers who have acted inappropriately with students.

“As a UFT member and former teacher, I’m a big believer in due process,” Albanese, who taught for 11 years, said in a statement. “But I also believe that we have to act as swiftly as possible to keep students safe. We need to change the law, because the current process simply isn’t accomplishing that goal.”

Of the three Republican candidates, Joe Lhota and George McDonald have also said they support the legislation. Republican John Catsimitidis and Comptroller John Liu, a Democrat, did not respond to the questionnaire and their campaigns didn’t respond to similar requests.

(See all of the candidates opinions on this issue: The Next Education Mayor)

At issue in the legislation is who should decide a teacher’s dismissal. Right now arbitrators have the final say in what constitutes “sexual misconduct” — which in the union contract is grounds for dismissal — and what the punishment should be if accusations are substantiated.

But the group of advocates, led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, says that final judgments should fall to the chancellor.

De Blasio “doesn’t support giving the City power to unilaterally fire a teacher based on allegations alone,” a spokesman said. But Brown said that isn’t what the issue is about.

“No one supports firing based on allegations alone,” Brown said in an email. “That is crazy. The question is what should happen when a teacher found guilty, but then [the] arbitrator doesn’t fire them.”

Brown points to instances where an arbitrator has allowed teachers to keep their jobs even after they were found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior. These include cases in which a teacher asked a student for a strip tease and called students “sexy,” respectively. Both times, they were not found guilty, even though the union contract’s definition of sexual misconduct, which includes “soliciting a sexual relationship” and “serious or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature.”

Brown also wants changes to the union contract that put in place “zero tolerance for inappropriate touching and sexual banter,” which she said would give arbitrators “less flexibility to make these bad calls.”

In three different statements sent by Thompson’s campaign, a spokeswoman said Thompson condemned teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct and said they should be fired.

“Bill Thompson believes that there is no room for discussion – anybody found guilty of sexual misconduct should be fired, nothing less,” the spokeswoman said in the third statement.

Asked about Thompson’s statement, Brown said he didn’t address the gray area that exists in the arbitrator’s interpretation of what “sexual misconduct” means, according to language in the contract. She said he was “trying to avoid the issue.”

2013 NYC Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire on sexual misconduct in schools

 

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.