Rubber Rooms Bounced

"To say that this is a big deal would be an understatement," said Mayor Bloomberg.

By Melissa Russo
|  Friday, Apr 16, 2010  |  Updated 6:41 AM EDT
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A new film takes us inside New York City's infamous

A new film takes us inside New York City's infamous "Rubber Room," where teachers accused of misbehaving are sent to do nothing.

No more tax dollars wasted for teachers to do nothing. That's the promise of a new deal reached by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers.

Under the deal, teachers will get speedier justice and a fair process and the city won't waste money on sidelined teachers.

As sources first told NBCNewYork.com, the deal includes the following changes:

  • A teacher will only be able to be removed from a classroom for 60 days. If by then the teacher has not been charged, he or she can return to the classroom unless there are serious accusations involved.
     
  • The deal gives the city greater ability to suspend teachers without pay in more severe cases, and saves taxpayers from shelling out at least $30 million a year in salaries to teachers legally required to do nothing.
     
  • The hearing process will be expedited in part by hiring more hearing officers to adjudicate. In less serious cases, there will be an expedited hearing process in which the case will be resolved in three hearings over a period of two weeks.

There are currently about 600 teachers in rubber rooms. Half are still under investigation and haven't been charged. The other half are going through the hearing process.

Meanwhile, they generally spend months or even years in the rubber rooms playing Scrabble, reading or surfing the Internet. The nickname refers to the padded cells of asylums, and teachers have said the name is fitting, since some of the inhabitants can become unstable.

"To say that this is a big deal would be an understatement," said Mayor Bloomberg regarding the new policy change. He said the city would "start putting teachers to work" in administrative duties while their cases are processed.

In cases of serious or sexual misconduct, teachers  "will be suspended and sent home."

UFT President Michael Mulgrew was with Bloomberg as he spoke in Midtown. "This whole issue of the rubber rooms had to be dealt with," said Mulgrew. "It was highly charged because of all the attention it has received. [Now] we have a faster, fairer system that works for the children." 

The department has blamed union rules that make it difficult to fire teachers, but some teachers assigned to rubber rooms charge that they have been singled out because they blew the whistle on a principal who was fudging test scores.
 
Before there were "rubber rooms," teachers were reassigned to administrative jobs in a district or personnel office. That's what will happen again now, so the city will not be paying teachers to do nothing.

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