The state administration of Newark schools is trying to bypass tenure protections for the city’s teachers by seeking to revoke the licenses of a number of instructors without first bringing tenure charges. The attempt, so secretive that not even the teachers nor their union were aware of it, has been rebuffed by the state Board of Examiners, the agency responsible for teacher licensing. Rebuffed–so far. That doesn’t mean Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run the schools, has given up trying to impose the harshest penalty against teachers without local due process.
The unprecedented mass de-licensing effort is considered strange–if not bizarre–by long-time observers of how the state Board of Examiners goes about revoking the licenses of teachers, usually for serious charges involving criminal behavior. For example, Anderson insisted that the state Board of Examiners issue subpoenas to the Newark Public Schools before she reveals the details of why she was bringing the charges against the teachers–an insistence the state has, for now at least, rejected.
“That’s simply not how the process works,” said one long-time observer. “If Anderson believes teachers have committed such grievous offences that their licenses should be taken away and their careers ended, she has an obligation to bring those facts before the state Board of Examiners.”
John Abeigon, director of organization for the Newark Teachers Union, said the NTU had not been informed of Anderson’s efforts to strip the licenses of seven teachers last June.
“I don’t know what Anderson is trying to do, but it looks as if she’s trying to get around the protections built into the new tenure law. That wouldn’t surprise us.”
He confirmed local tenure charges finally were brought against the same teachers.
This site discovered Anderson’s back-door effort to eliminate job protections for these teachers through the receipt of documents requested under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The documents show that, for the first time since Anderson was appointed superintendent by Christie in 2011, she went after the licenses of classroom teachers who had not yet been found guilty of tenure charges.
Although the documents made available through OPRA include the names of the teachers, they will be identified here only by their initials. In three cases–those of DG, JO, and TS–the teachers were the subjects of investigations by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).
The teachers were cleared of any wrong-doing but, in her letters to the state Board of Examiners, Anderson said she wanted the teachers’ licenses lifted because the investigations resulted “in a finding of ‘Not Established’ rather then ‘Unfounded'” and, to Anderson, that meant “the child was harmed or placed at risk of harm.” So, she wanted the licensing board to act against the teachers’ licenses.
A fourth case involving DCF and child abuse allegations involved WP. In her letter to the state Board of Examiners, Anderson contended DCF had found WP’s actions “placed the student at a substantial risk of harm.” However, WP was acquitted of criminal charges arising from the same incident and is appealing the DCF finding.
Two cases–KT and CC–involve teachers who allegedly had confrontations with their supervisors. The final case, EC, charges the teachers with unauthorized absences in what appears to be a dispute over a leave of absence.
The letters from Anderson were all dated the same day–June 5, 2014. That itself is considered highly unusual.
In response, Robert R. Higgins, the secretary to the state Board of Examiners, sent a letter to Bernard Mercado, a lawyer for the Newark Public Schools, asking for more information.
“In order to review these matters, the Board of Examiners would appreciate if you could provide additional information,” Higgins wrote in a letter dated June 10, 2014. “Please submit a copy of all reports, interviews and other supporting documentation that the district possesses regarding the allegations.”
Surprisingly, Mercado wrote back three days later asking the state to “provide this office with a subpoena duces tecum for each teacher so that the district can produce a copy of the documents you are requesting.”
The state Board of Examiners ignored the response. It is the responsibility of school district officials–in Newark and everywhere else–to bring information concerning serious charges against teachers to the attention of the licensing board and to cooperate with the state. No one has heard of a district demanding a subpoena as a condition of cooperation.
The attempt to make the state issue a subpoena might be a clumsy effort to shield Anderson and her subordinates from possible legal action for short-circuiting the disciplinary process. Or it simply might demonstrate the incompetence of Anderson and her staff.
A district–even, like Newark, a state-operated district–has no power to strip a teacher of a license, a career-ending move reserved for the most grievous of offenses. Only the state can do that. A review of the de-licensing cases published by the state shows the penalty often is reserved for cases involving violence or sexual abuse or other criminal behavior. In most cases, the state Board of Examiners acts on its own, following up on tenure cases brought by local districts.
The state prosecutes the charges against the teachers, initiating a case by issuing an order to the instructor to show cause why he or she should not be stripped of a license. The procedures are different from those involved in bringing tenure charges.