Bill Would Allow Easier Firing of Teachers Accused of Sexual Misconduct
GRACIE MANSION — Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced proposed legislation Tuesday that would make it easier for the city to fire teachers who engage in inappropriate sexual contact with students.
The bill, which still needs to be passed by the state Assembly and Senate, would allow the city and other local school districts to overrule the usual arbitration process in cases where teachers are found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior or made inappropriate sexual comments in the presence of students.
"This is something where if you really care about our children it is just indefensible to say that these teachers should stay in the system," Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference at Gracie Mansion. He also slammed the current system, under which arbitrators, who are jointly appointed by the city and the teachers' union, have the final say over firing decisions.
"It is wrong. It is dangerous. It is indefensible," he said.
The new rules would not apply to non-sexual physical abuse.
The proposed rules, which govern non-criminal conduct, come after a slew of high-profile alleged sexual abuse cases that rocked classrooms from the Upper West Side to Hell’s Kitchen to Springfield Gardens, Queens.
The DOE pointed to several other cases, including one in which the city's special commissioner of investigation found that a teacher told a 17-year-old student, "Baby, when you turn 18 years old, you could come to my home and we can have a real party" and shown another student an image on his cell phone of a man and a woman having sex.
While the DOE filed to have the teacher fired, all charges except calling the student "baby" were dismissed. The teacher was slapped with only a $1,500 fine, according to the DOE.
"We will not tolerate them being in our system," said Walcott, who stressed that teachers will still have the option of appealing firing decisions through the state courts.
The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican from the Poughkeepsie area, who said he was approached by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to introduce the legislation on Bloomberg's behalf.
Saland said he was confident that supporters would be able to find a sponsor in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. But he sounded less optimistic the bill would be able to pass before the end of the legislative session, which is four weeks away.
Teachers Union President Michael Mulgrew immediately rejected the proposal, arguing that the legislation would allow the city to "unilaterally find an employee guilty of sexual misconduct even though an independent hearing officer who has weighed all the evidence has determined otherwise."
"The UFT believes in zero tolerance on the issue of sexual misconduct with children. That’s why our contract already includes the toughest penalty in the state — automatic termination — for any teacher found guilty of this offense," Mulgrew said.
"Giving the chancellor — who has previously said that an accusation is not the same thing as a finding of guilt — the power to ignore the evidence and an arbitrator’s decision is not an answer to it."
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his office will review the bill to determine whether any other revisions to sexual misconduct procedures are warranted.
"We have zero tolerance for proven cases of sexual misconduct in our classrooms and these are issues that should have been addressed consistently all along," he said.
"The Assembly made some significant changes to 3020a in the budget process to ensure that these cases are resolved as expeditiously as possible. We'll review the bill to determine if any other revisions are necessary."