Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pattern of Arresting Teachers

There has been a policy change down at the Department of Education regarding how to address teachers who seek to air their employee grievances in a public manner. That policy is to have teachers arrested so that they spend the night in jail.

Norm Scott's reaction:
"The nest of vipers that is DOE legal has grown like a cancer and infested the NYPD where cops arrest fellow unionists for protesting abusive administrator tactics." 
 Francesco Portelos' reaction:
"Another teacher falsely arrested by @NYCSchools - Bronx teacher thrown in jail after criticizing principal"
And coverage from the
Bronx teacher thrown in jail after criticizing principal

After years of being embarrassed by teachers who just won't shut up, the New York City DOE has apparently embarked on a new HR policy of having teachers arrested on charges that he DA declines to press. This policy was first used against Francesco Portelos back in February when he published a post advertising the online Backpay Calculator he and I and James Eterno created.  The post satirically advertised that DOE employees could 'hack' their Payroll Portal system and give themselves a raise. Readers were further advised to use a password that Francesco claimed (again, satirically) was former Chancellor Dennis Walcott's (the password was something about Kittens being cute). As satire often is, almost everything in the post was completely untrue (you cannot hack into a payroll system and please do not try), but the DOE official had him arrested -placed in jail- anyway. This new instance is against a teacher and is for aggravated harassment. She sent a letter to the chancellor and the principal who discontinued her asking about improprieties committed at the school. Being arrested and held in custody for a over a day was her response.

The policy, as it appears to be unfolding, seems to be fairly codified and easy to explain. It is commenced when a teacher speaks out a little too much against the department or a practice or policy of the department. Once that's done, the DOE engages in the following actions:

  1. A department official will reach out to a member of the NYPD. That official will file a minor misdemeanor charge against the employee. NYPD is provided with contact information of the employee (obsentively from the employee's personal file) and a police report is issued.
  2. A representative from the police department will then contact the employee asking him or her to come in. In Mr. Portelos' case, the request was made to 'come in and answer a few questions'. In this teacher's case, it seems as though the representative simply asked her to come right in and surrender herself. 
  3. Once appearing at the precinct, the teacher is then arrested and held -in custody- until a DA reviews the charges. Mr. Portelos' was held for 33 hours before a DA saw the charges against him and dismissed them entirely. It seems teacher B was in jail for a little under 24 hours before a DA dismissed her charges.  
  4. The teacher then walks away without being charged with anything. The hope seems to be that the shock of being arrested is enough to prevent the teacher from ever publicly speaking out publicly.
While the policy has thus far been carried out against lone teachers who act as whistleblowers, it should be noted that it can also be legally carried out against union actions. While being convicted of a crime related to union activities is clearly illegal, being ARRESTED for such a crime and held in jail for a short period of time is a perfectly legal tactic. Members of MORE, and ICE and New Action; be warned.

 Since a principal made the claim against a former teacher, it must also be understood that this policy can be applied to any teacher, working under any principal, who speaks his or her mind a little too much at his or her school. This would apply to all 1800+ schools in the city and at least all 64,000 teachers who are represented by the United Federation of Teachers.

This would be the part where I say something funny or offer some type of commentary. Instead, I'll just say 1)  per the Federal NLRB position and precedent, am writing these words with the intent of improving my working conditions. Please do not arrest me for attempting to improve my working conditions. and 2) I can't believe I'm writing about teachers being arrested.


  1. Urban, don't forget it was the same precinct with same detectives involved. Detective William Connors of the 84th precinct, you are now Googleable. Don't Tread on Educators !

  2. Woo, buddy. Let's not get me arrested so quick. I need to warm my wife up to the idea first ;). Mine's not as forgiving as yours.

  3. We talked about holding a rally outside the precinct the day Portelos was arrested. But we needed a pattern. Maybe it is time to think about a pre-emptive strike -- picket the precinct and ask the cop where he stands on arresting fellow union members for speaking out. Maybe time to seek a court order? Maybe the tea party will join us.

  4. And if you read my responses on ed notes -- it will take an organization like MORE to execute any effective action. That is why I am focused first on building an effective opposing org in the UFT that can grow enough to be taken seriously. Watch what would happen if MORE got close to 40% pf the working teacher vote in an election.

    1. Norm, I just read your reply and, unlike the zombie who comprise Unity, I am grateful to be able to respectfully disagree with much of it and still have a good relationship with you. Although the presence of MORE is a wonder to behold, and I agree that Francesco is a dynamo (as are you), the sad conclusion is that since we all know the UFT won't be there, then we really should think of this as a matter that does not involve the UFT at all. As you're aware, there were those in MORE who had reservations about taking topics like this on in the past. While it was perfectly their right, and I respect them for exercising it, the truth is that it was something of an uphill fight then. I would expect it to be an uphill fight now. While I understand and really like the levers of democracy, I just don't have the energy for it.

      And during that time, real activists like you and Francesco are left with questions like do you protest the NYPD? (I would vote absolutely NO. They are simply doing their job and have a hard enough time) and who would a grievance like this even be brought to? (after several hours of thinking, I would STILL have no idea). I only know that I am, miraculously, thinking about teachers being arrested for writing blog posts and letters (both of which I have done in the past).

  5. Yes you are thinking - a good thing - but I hope thinking about the kinds of strategies not just lamenting the state of conditions. You do not have to be an activist or even part of MORE -- I just hope you at least see that MORE (and Change the Stakes) are amongst our best options at this time. I love the battles to work out a democratic functioning organization as opposed to the Unity model that will always lead us down the bad road. It's like putting up a building while designing it as we go along - sometimes we must take down a wall we put up and rebuild it - but slowly the wall goes up. At minimum we need you to get some of our stuff out to people in your building -- every person who does that takes some load off the rest. Not informing your colleagues is not an option - even if they seem not to want to listen - you provide them a service by telling them about the Discontinue -- the newbies even if not in danger have friends who may be.