It’s My Turn
Arthur Goldstein is an E.S.L. teacher and United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens. This op-ed first appeared in the New York Times.
Sensational headlines blare that teacher unions “go to bat” for sexual predators. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No one with anything resembling a conscience wants a sexual predator in the classroom. I have a 16-year-old daughter, and I don’t spend one minute of my time weighing the rights of such people against the reality that they do not belong with kids, no way, no how.
That said, I don’t accept that someone is a sexual predator simply because Michael Bloomberg, Dennis Walcott, Campbell Brown or some Astroturf group like Students- FirstNY says so. (Knowing what sort of teacher Michelle Rhee, a founder of StudentsFirstNY, was, it’s a wonder her followers have the audacity to complain about anyone at all.)
I’ve read the anecdotes, which sound awful, but I have firsthand knowledge of one case that’s been dragged through the tabloids. I know that one to be largely trumped up and unworthy of the attention it has received. If there is a perceived danger, the city certainly has the right to remove teachers pending investigation.
When I read we need to change laws, I’m dubious. First of all, the proposed law would give schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott the right to fire teachers despite the rulings of independent arbitrators.
Walcott rules against virtually all U-rated teachers, and has publicly stated he wanted to fire the teachers mentioned in the papers. It’s not a huge leap to imagine he would fire everyone in every case arbitrators found to be without merit.
We already have a school board, called the Panel for Educational Policy, that does everything our billionaire mayor asks. I’ve been to PEP meetings where entire communities have spoken out against school closings, and Mayor Bloomberg’s majority, without comment, without engagement, simply did his bidding. Dictatorial powers need to be curtailed, not expanded.
I’ve now read multiple reports stating the problem with the system is that the United Federation of Teachers gets to select the arbitrators. These reports often fail to mention that the arbitrators are co-approved by Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education. As far as I know, no one held a gun to Mayor Bloomberg’s head and forced him to hire these people.
Do the arbitrators make errors? It’s possible, and if that’s the case the city has every right to appeal their decisions. When courts are perceived to err, there is the remedy of appeal to higher courts. This is not sufficient for Mayor Bloomberg’s Education Department, which seeks the right to overturn independent arbitrators. What, then, is even the point of an independent arbitrator?
Shall we, on this basis, trash the justice system and allow Michael Bloomberg to make all determinations about who is and is not guilty? If he knows better than appointed arbitrators, doesn’t it follow that he knows more than appointed judges and juries?
Sexual abusers don’t belong in schools. They belong in prisons, where they can mingle freely with others who share their interests. Let’s put them there, be they teachers, bakers, candlestick makers, or whatever. And let’s move the education conversation back to education. No one needs a diversionary circus.