NYC Education Bureaucracy Gone Wild: The Suspension of a Hero Teacher

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NYC Education Bureaucracy Gone Wild: The Suspension of a Hero Teacher

Carmen Farina (L) speaks after being appointed as the next New York City schools chancellor by then Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. (Samira Bouau/Epoch Times)

Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected as a progressive candidate. Much of his support came from critics of the Bloomberg-Klein regime and its hostility to teachers and even to public schools. The Bloomberg regime never stopped berating the system that it totally controlled for nearly a dozen years.

De Blasio selected veteran educator Carmen Farina as his chancellor, who promised to bring back “the joy of learning.” Unfortunately, the de Blasio administration has been slow to clean house. The Klein regime still controls large sectors of the education bureaucracy, including the infamous “gotcha” squad that is always on the alert for teacher misbehavior. True, the “gotcha” squad completely missed a high school teacher arrested for having sexual relations with several students at selective Brooklyn Technical High School, who is currently suspended with pay.

But the “gotcha” squad bagged a teacher who helped run a Kickstarter campaign for a student with cerebral palsy. This teacher was suspended without pay for 30 days for “theft of services,” having helped the campaign during school hours.

As Jim Dwyer, columnist for the New York Times reports:

“This is a story of an almost unfathomably mindless school bureaucracy at work: the crushing of an occupational therapist who had helped a young boy build a record of blazing success.

“The therapist, Deb Fisher, is now serving a suspension of 30 days without pay for official misconduct.

“Her crime?

“She raised money on Kickstarter for a program that she and the student, Aaron Philip, 13, created called This Ability Not Disability. An investigator with the Education Department’s Office of Special Investigations, Wei Liu, found that Ms. Fisher sent emails about the project during her workday at Public School 333, the Manhattan School for Children, and was thus guilty of “theft of services.”

“The school system has proved itself unable to dislodge failed or dangerous employees for years at a time.

“Ms. Fisher’s case seems to represent just the opposite: A person working to excel is being hammered by an investigative agency that began its hunt in search of cheating on tests and record-keeping irregularities. It found nothing of the sort. Instead, the investigation produced a misleading report, filled with holes, on the fund-raising effort.

“By omitting essential context, the report wrongly suggested that Ms. Fisher was a rogue employee, acting alone and in her own self-interest.

“In fact, the entire school, including the principal, was involved in the Kickstarter project, with regular email blasts counting down the fund-raising push. And the money was to be used not by Ms. Fisher, but by Aaron, who is writing a graphic book and making a short film about Tanda, a regular kid who is born with a pair of legs in a world where everybody else has a pair of wheels.

“Aaron has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to navigate the world. Ms. Fisher has worked with him since kindergarten.”

Chancellor Farina, it is time to fire the “gotcha” squad. It is time to replace Joel Klein’s legal team. It is time to clean house and install officials who share Mayor de Blasio’s vision and values.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.  Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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