Christie’s Newark schools break the law

LIke he said to the courageous nurse--"So sue me" if Newark uses unlicensed teachers.
LIke he said to the courageous nurse–“So sue me” if Newark uses unlicensed teachers.

Every day,  Tom Robinson, a Newark public school teacher,  meets his classes and feels a little sick to his stomach. He feels sick because he knows he is not qualified to teach the course he has been required to teach since the beginning of the year, chemistry. It is, of course, not the first time he has been required by the Newark Public Schools (NPS) to teach outside both his knowledge and his license.  And, at least, he is working, something more than he has been doing for most of the last two years when he either was home or hanging around what even the school administration calls “rubber rooms”–places where money is wasted paying teachers not to teach.

“I really don’t know anything about chemistry,” says Robinson. “I took one course while I was in college but that’s it. I’ve never been taught how to teach chemistry, how to set up a lab, to do anything like this.”

Tom Robinson is a real person, although that is not his real name. I’ve met him and spoken with him on the phone many times. I’ve seen the documentation that backs up his story. I believe him. He says he is afraid to give his real name because, while he is tenured, he says he personally knows too many teachers who have been punished for speaking out against the corruption and ineptitude inside the Newark schools. I have withheld the names of the schools where he has taught to protect his anonymity

“I’ve already felt their vindictiveness,” says Robinson, the father of three children. “They will set me up to fire me.”

Robinson is most haunted by the thought he is responsible for teaching more than 70 high school students a subject he doesn’t know. He has documents that show he has informed the school administration and central office at 2 Cedar Street that he is not qualified to teach the course. He is certified as an elementary school special education teacher and, until last year, he has taught nothing else but elementary school special education for more than a decade.

“When we had parents’ night, only two parents showed up,” Robinson says. “I told both of them that I was not qualified to teach chemistry. They both asked me whether I would give their children passing grades. I said I can’t fail them. That seemed to satisfy them, but I felt really bad about it. Their children deserved to have qualified teachers. They deserved a chance to learn.”

christiecamiThe law requires parents to be informed when their children are in a classroom with an unqualified teacher. He figures he has obeyed the law, telling the parents. He also has told his students. He says they try to help him teach.

He does try to learn as much as he can about chemistry. He reads books about chemistry. Robinson hasn’t had a chance yet to demonstrate any laboratory experiments because, well, he hasn’t had access to a laboratory.

The tragedy of Robinson’s experience  is, in many ways, a symbol of the rot that  pervades the Newark schools under state control–most especially, under the regime of Cami Anderson, who has been the state-imposed superintendent of Newark schools since 2011. Certainly, one of the most serious issues that neither Anderson nor the state Department of Education under Commissioner David Hespe has addressed is the persistence of placing teachers in classrooms when they are not legally qualified to teach those classes.

That isn’t simply a matter of legality–however much we should want state officials to obey the laws they so frequently use against others. More important, it means Newark school children simply are not getting the instruction they need and deserve. Does anyone believe children in Glen Ridge or East Brunswick are taking chemistry classes with teachers unqualified to teach chemistry–or any high school science? This is the state, after all, denying even minimal education to children–probably because the children are black or brown and almost certainly poor.

But there is more to Tom Robinson’s story. A few days ago, I wrote about Newark’s “rubber rooms” and how they contain teachers in good standing who have not been charged with misconduct or found inefficient but are warehoused because some favored principals would rather have their friends and favorites teach in their schools.

For no reason at all beyond the whims of Anderson’s minions, these teachers are taken out of classrooms they served for years and placed either at school headquarters or in gyms or cafeterias where, while drawing full pay, they do nothing. Robinson was one of those teachers for two years. Indeed, for a good part of his time as a so-called “educator without placement,”  or EWP, he stayed at home, out of touch with the NPS and receiving his $80,000 a year in salary.

“I kept thinking I’d be called back,” says Robinson.  “I couldn’t believe they would be wasting money like that.”

But, in effect, the NPS under Cami Anderson simply lost track of Tom Robinson as it undoubtedly has lost track of many school employees. Anderson put more than 400 perfectly qualified and experienced teachers in rubber rooms while hiring almost as many new teachers from an organization she once led, Teach for America (TFA), a  real waste of money in a district facing a $57 million deficit.

Here is the way it happened: For years, Robinson was working as a special education teacher in School X, an elementary school. He had a good record and received positive evaluatiions. In February of 2012, a parent filed a complaint against Robinson with the state Division of Youth and Family Services.  Robinson was suspended but, in a few weeks, DYFS declared the charges “unfounded” and he was returned to his teaching position.

Unfounded–as in it never happened.

Robinson couldn’t return to School X the following September because Anderson had turned it into a so-called “renew” school and the principal fired virtually the entire staff.  Robinson ended up spending the entire school year in a rubber room.

At the beginning of the 2012-2013 year, Robinson was hired at School Y, another elementary school,  as a special education teacher. He had interviewed for the position and was hired by the principal, a decision confirmed by a letter from Vanessa Rodriquez, the so-called “chief talent officer” for the NPS.

Barely a week after receiving the letter, Robinson found out someone else had been given his job at School Y and he was ordered to report back to the rubber room.

Now get this–a week after he’s back getting paid for doing nothing at 2 Cedar Street, he gets another letter from the same “chief talent officer” telling him he has been placed on administrative leave while she conducts her own investigation into the same–yes, the exact same–complaint that had been considered “unfounded” by DYFS almost two years earlier. (I’ve already written how Anderson illegally tried to strip teachers of their licenses even after they were cleared of wrongdoing).

Not only is Robinson  now not teaching, he is sent home for almost the entire school year–with full pay–while NPS investigates what already has been investigated. Investigated by DYFS, an independent state agency that found the charges against him were “unfounded.”

And guess what the chief talent officer found? Nothing. He was cleared again. A second time.

“I was completely cleared the first time but, even if someone still suspected me of doing something, they had the entire school year of 2012-2013 to investigate me while I was in the rubber room,” says Robinson. “They didn’t.”

After Robinson was once again completely cleared of the same abuse complaint, he was returned to a high school, a kind of school where he had never taught before–to teach outside his license–late in the 2013-2014 school year. In September, when he returned to the same high school, he was told he had to teach chemistry.

True, the children he would teach were all classified–but the law requires the district to provide them with a fully qualified chemistry teacher as well and Robinson is not. He has occasionally received helping teachers in his classes, but none is certified to teach high school chemistry.

So, welcome to Cami Anderson’s Newark.  Chris Christe’s Newark.  Far from the “100 excellent schools” she says she will create, Anderson provides the neediest students with unqualified teachers. Instead of providing the labs these students need as well as qualified teachers, she wastes millions by paying hundreds of idle teachers to do nothing, while hiring friends from the TFA.

Where the government breaks the law.

 

 

 

25 comments

  1. RCS

    I had a similar experience. After 22 years as a biology teacher at West Side and 3 years at Barringer, I was transferred to East Side as “unassigned staff”. I spent my days in the in-school suspension room “monitoring” 4-8 students with 3 or 4 coaches/PE teachers. In December I was “asked” to teach Special Ed. Chemistry. I told them I was not Sp Ed certified and had never taught chemistry. That apparently didn’t matter, I did the best I could for the kids. The next year I was sent to American History High, a magnet school where I was assigned to teach “Computer Applications” and a 6th grade computer class (even though my cert is high school science).
    Cami’s plan is to make all her experienced (expensive) teachers as uncomfortable as possible, evaluate them as “ineffective” and hope they retire. For me it worked. She won.

    Bob Braun: I am so sorry for your experience. Frankly, a conscientious prosecutor should start handing out indictments for conspiracy in Newark–but I know that will never happen. The law is never used against those who use the law to maintain their power. See Glenn Greenwald’s “And Justice for Some.”

    • Lisa bravoco

      For me too nps won.. Highly qualified to teach math… Told to teach my 5th grade home room social studies observed by principal in SS given ineffective for lesson and annual … Retired last year .. Was getting physically sick from situation .. Realize now how widespread it is.. So sad… Karma will get them all

    • Locusts must go

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government
      we need an organizer focused on getting rid of this regime. And for all you teachers that threw in the towel, use your free time and education to make a difference

    • rcs

      When word got out last year that I was retiring, many of my colleagues came into my room before or after school to congratulate me and tell me how much they wished they were in my position. Frankly it was sad how many quality teacher couldn’t wait to get out of this toxic situation. I had teachers with 8, 10 or 12 years of experience telling me they know they will never make it to retirement. Parents may think their child’s teacher is immune to this nonsense, but it runs so deep that the unhappiness is pervasive and it has to affect the outcome.

  2. Former NPS Teacher

    Sadly, EWPs get a bad name and are generally poorly reviewed for this exact reason. He will most likely be deemed ineffective at the end of the year, they’ll keep him in a position he is unqualified for until the 2 year mark hits, then they will strip him of tenure and his job. I’ve SEEN them struggle, and while it’s obvious they aren’t able to do the task they’ve been assigned (which frustrates the other teachers and students that work with them), it doesn’t reflect what they COULD do if they were appropriately placed. If teachers are placed in academic areas they aren’t qualified to teach, how does the state intend to “differentiate” their evaluations? There is where your lawsuit option should come in, Bob. The sheer number of teachers this will effect is SCARY high. This should concern ALL NJ residents, because the state is going to have to foot the bill for these cases, and by the state I mean taxpayers.

    If I were to be diagnosed with lung cancer, I’d want to be treated by an oncologist, not a brain surgeon, no matter how “great” the brain surgeon is. I refuse to believe I’m the only one who feels this way.

  3. ChristieLovesBestiality

    A) This is all a ploy to strip teachers of tenure
    B) To replace them with their cronies
    C) Just like the other state controlled districts like Paterson, Camden, etc. Public education is designed to fail in order to justify the further expansion of Charters. We have all read Diane Ravitch on how the Charters (Christie’s lackeys) have bilked the tax payers of hundreds of millions because of the lack of oversight.

  4. becca fields

    100 excellent schools – never said public schools. 100 charter schools is what she has in mind and every day we let this debacle continue is one more day closer she gets to the goal. So, now that the President has received the Mayor’s letter are we going to see swift and decisive Federal intervention? I doubt it. And so then what? Local control is what is needed and what must be where the fight stays focused.

    Bob Braun: I agree but the mechanics aren’t available. No statute allows it. No federal judge is imaginative or creative enough to issue an injunction ordering the schools returned to local control. Those days are gone forever.

  5. Mythology

    To the parents that are driving their children all over Newark, there is a transportation refund that you apply for from the state. It will or should be given to you in June. It is around $500.00. The Newark Public Schools would be unaware of this but still give them a call about it, Then call the Department of Education.

      • Mythology

        I would ask my Newark Council person, The New Jersey Department of Education and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. I would also present this Transportation Reimbursement Fund to the PTA membership aat your next open meeting. This reimbursement fund has been available to all school districts in New Jersey where parents transport their children to school. There used to be a milage limitation, but it was under ten miles a day.

        No more problems, more solutions.

  6. Brick City Exile

    This is an unfortunate but not out of place situation for the Newark School District. They have been violating students’ rights for years. I worked there from 2002-2012. In 2011 I had a class with around seven ELL students and six Special Education students along with seventeen regular education students. I had fourteen books to work with. I was not certified to work with ELL students and Special education students. However I was certified to teach the subject to the regular education students. The ELL students did not speak, read or write in English and the Special education students, according to their IEP were supposed to be in a self contained class. That meant that the rights of thirteen students were being violated. I reported this to the administration and their answer was that they did not have anyone to teach this subject to ELL and Special education students, therefore I had to do it. This created a situation where it was difficult to teach thirty students when thirteen of them could not function because of obvious limitations. I was not equipped to teach these thirteen students, yet I was held accountable for their learning. They were put in my class in part because the principal in charge of scheduling could not do his job well. This school (BHS) has a history of botching students’ schedules. He put them where ever he could fit them, regardless of their needs. That year they had the nerve to give me an unsatisfactory evaluation after years of proficient evaluations. They failed to do their job, but still held me accountable for mine. This is not new, but many teachers were caught sleeping at the wheel. They thought that the powers that be would never touch them, but they have. I feel bad for my former colleagues, they should have been more vigilant. I have since moved on. I was not going to stick around and have my career destroyed. I am still too young!

  7. Mythology

    The governor of New Jersey is limited to two terms. Christie is in his second term. The teachers in all the state run districts need to lead the proceedings on Impeaching Christie. Bob I apologize for making this proposal on your blog but I feel you would be the best person to advise all concerned as to how to start and complete this process.

    I will also state again, that since Cory Booker is a State Senator in Christie’s pocket, that a write in vote for Ras Baraka on Election Day will show all the power of the people when they are dissatisfied with their political leaders. Teachers, note that you did not get this day off on your school calendar when it has been given in the past. Why?

    Impeachment starts with a petition of recall. If Booker gets elected, we will hold impeachment over his head if he continues to talk and not do. Remember he will get a six year term and we cannot hold Baraka back to just being the Mayor of Newark.

    Finally, Judge Jacobson needs to be removed from making anymore decisions concerning the Christie Administration, as too many of her judgments come down on the illegalities being perpetuated on the public by the “Decider”.

      • Mythology

        Vote for anyone but Booker for State Senator. My write-vote is for Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark for economic and educational reason. He has brought more jobs to Newark in less than 6 months, then Booker has as a State Senator and Mayor of Newark. Use the key-board in the voting booth on Tuesday to make a choice that is different from the ones given. You have a right to do this.

  8. Renee Pulliam-Newell

    I contacted the District Attorneys office and asked that a complaint be filed against the administrators who committed perjury to harm my career. Extortion is a crime. I was pressured to sign a settlement by NPS. When the Newark Public School’s lawyers realized that I would not sign this document, that trashes my career, I was suspended without pay and Tenure charges were filed against me.

    “Extortion is the crime of obtaining money or property by threat to a victim’s property or loved ones, intimidation, or false claim of a right.”

    “Other types of threats sufficient to constitute extortion include those to harm the victim’s business and those to either testify against the victim or withhold testimony necessary to his or her defense or claim in an administrative proceeding or lawsuit.”

    “MANY STATUTES ALSO PROVIDE THAT ANY THREAT TO HARM ANOTHER PERSON IN HIS OR HER CAREER OR REPUTATION IS ALSO EXTORTION”

    EXTORTION IS A FELONY IN ALL STATES. I DID RETIRE. TO NOT BE TREATED WITH PROFESSIONALISM AND DECENCY IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE IS DAMAGING TO YOUR HEALTH. I HAVE BEEN HOME SINCE SCHOOL STARTED. I DONT MISS THE VIOLENCE, DISRESPECT, OR STRESS.

    To my Colleagues who served the children of the city of Newark, NJ, Congratulations for a job well done. Our students are doing well and thriving. They have jobs, college degrees and serve our country. They are making us proud to have taught them. Always remember that. God Bless

    • Mythology

      2015 is an contract bargaining year for the Newark Public Schools and the teachers of the Newark School Districts. Even though many teachers retired this year, you are still due compensation for the time you put in teaching from the last contract signed. Get started now on the type of contract and the issues you want deleted or added on the next contract. I think if the retired teachers get behind the teachers currently teaching it will form a powerful bargaining unit.

  9. Mythology4

    In response to your vote on Tuesday, use the keyboard in the voting booth to select anyone but Booker or Bell. This will give you à clear conscious moving foward. In regards to the transportation fund for driving your chidren back and forth to School, your best source is the Département of Éducation. All parents should mobilize on this inquery because it hits the state and NPS as an unexpected exspense from Newark. Other New Jersey Districts are reimbursed for this. Also, ask your council person and Mayor Ras Baraka, who is my write in vote instead of Booker. This is an economic and educstional vote on my part because Mr. Baraka, in less than six months, has given Newark more jobs then Booker has as a Mayor and Senator. To out dedicated Newark Teachers please do not despair you have been given the skills to survive this crises because you truly love the chidren you teach. Just document that you are teaching out of your certification and show your students how to learn and thrive when you are thrust in an unfamilier situation. This is teaching à life-lesson. Get started on your 2015 contract also. The last contract that was bargained for écoutes next year. All you teachets who just retired, you also are part of the 2015 contract negotiations. Never, ever dispair. You are on the right aide of this situation. Bob, can we use your Blog for communicating solutions and not just problem? You already have shown us the “The Light at the End of the Tunnel”. Let’s go for it together. Any information on how Bridget Kelly and her family are doing? I think this would be à national story that needs to be told.

    • booklady

      Certainly hope that Bridget Anne Kelly’s children are faring well. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her; she’s a lesson in How To Lose a $100K Job with an Eight-Word E-Mail. The follow-up messages re children of B Buono voters further indicate lack of judgment (don’t put anything on e-mail that you wouldn’t want on front page of New York Times).
      She spent most of her career working for NJ Republicans, who may not hire her now in deference to CC.
      She may try to work using her maiden name. (Did you ever wonder what it’s like for, say, the Motor Vehicle agency staff member when Linda Tripp comes to renew driver license??)
      Also, her all-girls Catholic high school alma mater may decide to revise their policy re alumnae Hall of Fame.

  10. booklady

    It’s four months since C Anderson’s contract was renewed at $251K. She would also be eligible for up to $50K in bonuses if she met “yet-to-be-prescribed criteria” (see John Mooney’s Analysis, NJ Spotlight 6-30-14).
    Have the criteria been set? What are the factors? Who composed?
    Given how CA has treated Newark, she deserves no bonus, but if the public isn’t questioning operations, they’ll slide a bonus past.

    Figured Bob Braun’s Ledger was a natural spot to raise the question.

    Am holding back on my sarcasm–because we could compose some dandy criteria relating to CA’s performances and history in NPS.

  11. Pingback: Bob Braun: Christie’s Newark Schools Break the Law | Diane Ravitch's blog

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