This story came into the DTOE newsroom a few weeks ago., and posted on DTOE this past Tuesday. This is one of the most heinous examples of teacher abuse and abuse of power The Crack Team has heard of. In fact, Crack Team member Moose was so upset he was crying like a baby while sucking his thumb and calling for his mother.
This story, told from the teacher involved, has all the markings of what the problem really lies in education. Not the teachers, but the ones in charge, the ones making the decisions.
The letter to follow (In it's entirety) was originally sent to High Schools Superintendent Donald Conyers. Donald was at the forefront of damage to this teacher (here and here).
Coincidentally, Conyers worked closely with DR Mychael Willon. He of the false PhD and the arrest for sexual deviancy in Wichita KS.
This teacher was a first year teacher, a Fellow and a cancer survivor. If she had tenure, would she, could she, have been discontinued?
Another story is coming soon, even more egregious.
Several names have been redacted.
Brooklyn and Queens High School
6565 Flatlands Avenue, Room 104C
Brooklyn, New York 11236
Dear Mr. Conyers:
I am saddened that our first communication is under the given circumstances. However, I am elated by the fact that you have given me an opportunity to express my concerns to you at this time. This year has been in fact quite challenging but has left me with the knowledge that there is no other field in which I would wish to find myself. I never would have imagined how much I would have learned while teaching and I am grateful for each moment.
On July 5, 2014 I received a letter from your office stating that I was being reviewed for potential discontinuance. Frankly, given the year that I have faced I was not entirely surprised. I offer you a chronology of the events in my year so that you can understand my perspective as best as possible.
I am licensed under the Transitional B Certification through the alternative program known as the New York City Teaching Fellows for Special Education for grades 7 through 12. I was placed at the School for International Studies (i.e. 15k497) for my summer assignment. During this time I sought employment while teaching summer school to a mixed group of middle school students. Throughout the subsequent weeks, I made many connections with the students and built rapport. By the second week I was being asked by the students to seek employment at the school. In August, I was called in for an interview with the principal, Jillian Juman, and the head of the Special Education Department and Lead Teacher, Nicole Lanzillotto. When offered the position I excitedly accepted and prepared for the upcoming school year.
On September 3, 2013 I received my rosters, classroom locations, and schedule. I was told that I would be teaching 7th grade ICT English Language Arts, 8th grade ICT English Language Arts, 7th grade ICT Humanities, and Self-Contained English Language Arts/ Humanities. When reviewing the rosters for my classes I found that my middle school self-contained class had fifteen students without a classroom paraprofessional (See Exhibit A). Under the Special Education laws of New York State the class size should be of the following ratio: 12:1:1. Of my fifteen students included on the roster, three of them were classified as alternate assessment (See Exhibit B) and the class was a conglomerate of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders of varying levels. Further, I was placed in an AP Statistics classroom in the high school wing to teach self-contained, middle school English.
In October, I found myself struggling to direct the classroom and sought help from my Chapter Leader, Ms. R. Upon explaining the dynamics of the classroom she informed me that the class should be no more than 12 unless a waiver was filed by the school for 13 and that that was the absolute maximum. The following day, on my way to sign out, I was approached by both Ms. Juman and Ms. Lanzillotto who said to me, “Ms. R says you are unhappy”. I explained to them that it was not that I was unhappy but that I felt that the students were not benefitting from the dynamics of the setting and that it was not conducive to a learning environment. Further, it was illegal and violated Special Education regulations. Ms. Lanzillotto chimed in to state that the classroom dynamic was not in violation of Special Education regulations, despite my research having stated otherwise. Ms. Juman then informed me that she would be “fixing” the situation in time for the new semester when we would be facing program changes as an entire school. She then asked if I would write a letter stating that I was comfortable with the arrangement of the roster as it stood and in good faith knew that it would only last until January.
Immediately after having completed the aforementioned conversation I sought the advice of Ms. R, who informed me that the conversation and request were inappropriate. After speaking to my mentor, Mr. P, he reiterated the same sentiments as Ms. R and advised me against writing the letter.
When I realized the roster would not be changing to suit the needs of the students or the classroom environment I sought the help of Ms. Lanzillotto and asked her to visit my classroom. On October 9, 2013 Ms. Lanzillotto sat in my classroom for about ten minutes prior to pulling out a student of mine, Student A. On October 10, 2013 I received an email from Ms. Lanzillotto stating that Student A’s schedule would be changed effective immediately and that she had undergone a re-evaluation (See Exhibit C). In this email exchange you will notice that the school’s Speech Language Pathologist questions when the re-evaluation had taken place, which was a question the rest of the department had, as well. Student A was then placed into my ICT English Language Arts class, and she immediately began expressing her discomfort with the material that was being presented in the ICT setting. She then asked to meet with me and expressed a request to be returned to a self-contained setting. I advised her to speak to Ms. Lanzillotto regarding her concerns and encouraged her to advocate for herself. By October 21, 2013 Ms. Lanzillotto informed the staff via email that Student A would in fact remain in Self-Contained Language Arts stating, “[This] is what Student A thinks is good for her right now”.
After I spoke to Ms. R about my concerns for Student A and other students, she approached Ms. Juman and asked why a more seasoned teacher had not been placed in the self-contained setting so that I may learn from my ICT partnerships. Ms. Juman responded by saying, “[Ms. S] is sickly and cannot handle the pressures of a self-contained setting.” Ms. R then said that I also have health concerns which include Thyroid Cancer which required two surgeries and radiation and Lupus to which Ms. Juman responded, “yes, but, she’s younger”. Therefore, it was simply assumed that because of my age I was better fit for the task instead of the veteran teacher with 24 years of teaching experience.
Shortly after the incident involving Student A, Ms. R began following up with Ms. Lanzillotto and Ms. Juman about the class size. At this time they told her that they actually obtained a waiver for 13 students. Ms. R asked to see this waiver and was given an application rather than a waiver which had not been granted. Ms. R reiterated that even with a waiver, 15 students was outside the regulations. Ms. Lanzillotto and Ms. Juman then began asking me daily for my thoughts on which students were ready to be moved into the ICT setting. Given the students’ reading, writing, and intellectual levels I disagreed that any of the students were ready for the change in setting. A second concern regarding class size came to light when my roster for 9th period Intervention was released.
According to Special Education Law my roster size should have consisted of five students. Rather, I was given ten (See Exhibit D). On November 13, 2013 I sent an email to my mentor, Mr. P informing him of this placement being against regulation, to which he did not respond. That same day I received an email from Mrs. Assante, the principal’s secretary asking that a weekly meeting be set with her (See Exhibit E). I approached Mrs. Assante and she stated the nature of the meetings were to discuss my lesson plans and for Ms. Juman to collect the week’s worth each Monday. Around this time I was observed twice a week and had met the minimum of six by November’s end, by January of 2014 I had reached a count of approximately 19. After consulting with Ms. R she stated that ritualized collection of lesson plans was a violation of our contractual rights and advised me to send an email asking about the nature of these meetings.
My email of November 13, 2013 was ignored and the following day I received another email from Mrs. Assante dated November 14, 2013 requesting that I schedule the time for the meetings (See Exhibit E). I responded by reiterating my initial concerns. Later that day I was approached by Ms. Juman who stated to me, “Stacey thinks you are scared to meet with me”. I explained to her that my feelings should never be inferred and that I merely wanted in writing the nature of these appointments especially given that they were recurring. The following day I received a schedule for these meetings which would last from November until January. In January I was told that my lesson plans finally reached the principal’s level of satisfaction (See Exhibit F) and she began to decrease the meetings and collection of lesson plans. In the end I can say that forcing me to complete these lessons so far in advance and in such detail served to benefit my classroom in that I was planning ahead, however given the varying levels of advancement of the students made it useless and I felt uncomfortable with the manner in which it was done.
I was granted the day off for December 2, 2013 for a doctor appointment (See Exhibit G). On this same date the Special Education Department met as a whole to discuss which students could potentially be moved out without consulting me. I was emailed that day by Ms. Lanzillotto (See Exhibit G) asking for my input. Given the inappropriate nature of this request I did not respond. When I arrived at work the following day, December 3, 2013 a student, Student B, greeted me in the ICT setting. Prior to Student B having been moved out of the self-contained setting Student C, a second candidate had been moved out, as well. The program switch for Student C was in fact based on my recommendation since based on her IEP and according to her mother, she was placed in self-contained based on her emotional disturbance and not based on her intellectual ability. Upon meeting Student C who came into our school for eighth grade, I determined that the curricula of my Self-Contained Language Arts and Humanities were causing her harm, that it was not challenging enough. As of December 3, 2013 I had thirteen students on the roster.
Looking at Exhibit H, you will note that my seventh period Self-Contained Language Art’s roster was set at 13 and that by eighth period two students were sent to have Physical Education for the second time in the day so that my class size was at 11 for the end of the day. The executive decisions made by my Administration were not out of the best interest of the students and were in fear that I would file a grievance. Given the constant observations, ritualized collection of my lesson plans, and lack of tenure I refrained from filing a grievance. Frankly, I was more concerned with meeting my students’ needs more than my own. The above mentioned lack of action on my part was also in good faith that the situation would be rectified.
An incident occurred on November 21, 2013 (See Exhibit I) in connection with my roster being too large in 9th period Intervention. Two students attempted to touch me inappropriately and a third student in an attempt to defend me, slammed into my face. This occurred after I had asked that my class size be readjusted. In response to this matter, the Assistant Principal, Renato DaSilva instructed me to fill out a written statement with the dean, a Victim’s Report through UFT, and to email the details of the incident to the appropriate staff members. The principal, Ms. Juman was not in that day and requested a meeting with me the following school day. Ms. DaSilva approached me on November 22, 2013 during fourth period and asked that I meet with both Administrators for an impromptu meeting.
During this meeting Ms. Juman stated to me that I should have reconsidered teaching given that I am “pretty” and that incidences like the above are bound to happen. She continued to say that I should possibly stop wearing makeup so that I am less attractive. She also stated, “[you] give students the wrong impression when you close the door of your classroom”. She then asked what I thought would be an appropriate punishment given that the infraction was “small”. She then suggested that I meet with the two young men along with Mr. DaSilva to discuss boundaries and that that would be punishment enough. She then scolded me for filing a report with the Victim’s Unit and asked me why I had done so. At this point, I made eye contact with Mr. DaSilva and remained silent until he described the actions he had taken the day before. I was then told to leave so that she could discuss with Mr. DaSilva where he had misled me. The students were never reprimanded but were supposedly taken out of my intervention.
On December 13, 2013 I received an updated list of the roster for Intervention with no visible changes having been made (See Exhibit J). I attempted questioning the decision via email as you may note on page two of the email labeled “MS Roster Updates for Enrichment – MS Enrichment ONLY!” (Exhibit I) My requests were ignored and on December 2, 2013 I received an email labeled Student D (See Exhibit K) where it was stated that Student D, one of the students involved in the November 21, 2013 incident would be moved into my ICT despite the fact that he did not have an IEP. When I expressed my concern, Mr. P, my mentorresponded as follows, “Unfortunately, this decision was made last week by Administration. We need to keep Student E and Student D separated for both their successes”. Although I applaud the fact that my Administration has taken steps towards putting the needs of the students at the forefront, I do question where the support for assaulted teachers comes into consideration. At the end of December I had a discussion with Ms. Juman during which I asked if I could be released should I find another school. Ms. Juman responded that she was not willing to do so and that she hired me and therefore would help me and attempt to alleviate the burdens I was feeling. I expressed that I did not feel my job was secure while at this school and she reiterated her stance of hiring me and building me up.
In January, before the program changes occurred, the Special Education Department sat together and members were paid per session to amend all IEPs so that they matched the programs we offered but, did not meet the needs of our students. I was told I would not be invited to the paid sessions by Ms. Lanzillotto given that, “you haven’t learned how to amend IEPs”. This contributed to the lowered roster where I found I had eleven students for the new semester and under the new program. In doing the above mentioned, the needs of our students were compromised and ignored in order to be in accordance with the laws governing classroom sizes.
In January of 2014 I was given a classroom to design myself and had 11 students on my roster. I thought my relationship with the principal had improved and my evaluations increasingly improved, as well (See Exhibit L). In terms of my pedagogy I was told I had shown the most improvement out of any first year she had witnessed. To improve my classroom environment I took steps in using research based Positive Behavior Supports (See Exhibit M). I sought the advice of my professor from St. John’s University and together devised two Positive Behavior Supports. The first is known as “Secret Student”. During this time I pull at random the name of a student and follow his or her behavior throughout the class. At any given time I may say, “I’m looking for my secret student! I wonder if s/he is on task” and with that the students would all return to task. At the end, if the student had behaved, I would reward him or her with a homemade scratch off card and a certificate. If the student did not perform well I would allow it to remain a secret.
The second Positive Behavior Support I utilized in my classroom was “Ca$h it in”, a ticket system. For every twenty minutes I was able to get through my lesson without interruption I would award the class with twenty tickets that could be redeemed for a class prize. Individually, students could also win tickets for the possibility of being “Most Valuable Student”. The class received a pizza party on April 4, 2014. The great aspect of this particular support was that it allowed me to build a behavioral contract with the students and there was student choice evident in the process and execution. My rapport with my students greatly improved and my overall reputation amongst students was that I was kind, caring, and fun. I received apologetic letters from students who misbehaved and even notes and cards from grateful parents (See Exhibit N).
In March, I was shocked to have received three disciplinary letters in the same week and found that the allegations stemmed from students who had done poorly in my class. The first letter stemmed from miscommunication between a student’s paraprofessional, Ms. B, and the rest of the class. On March 25, 2014 a Career Panel was held in the library. I escorted my Self-Contained class to the library for third period. At the sound of the bell they were dismissed for lunch and I remained in the library to have lunch with the panelists. Before the bell was going to ring for the start of fifth period and when my Self-Contained class reconvenes I looked around the library and noted that all of the students had gone to the lunchroom previously. Upon reaching my classroom I only had three students waiting for me including a student’s paraprofessional, Ms. B. I asked where the rest of the students had gone and Ms. B informed me that she misunderstood the directive and told them to go to the library after they lined up outside my classroom door (i.e. Room 130).
I returned to the library where the principal and the college advisor, Ms. M, were eating with three students. In the disciplinary letter, the principal counts the three students, who are high school students as adults. I found the rest of my students without a teacher in the library playing video games and talking in the back on the computers. I asked them, “What are you guys doing? Let’s go.” The students immediately closed out their games, apologized to me and joined me in walking over to the classroom to begin class. Shortly after, I received notice for a meeting during which the principal claimed I had not done my duty and that I had left the students unaccompanied in the library although they had come in towards the tail-end of lunch, which is also my duty-free lunch. Once she realized that she had gotten the order of events chronologically wrong she then went on to talk to me about the tone I used. Tone is subjective and further the feelings of the students should not have been inferred. If anything, she should have taken statements from the students as well as the college adviser, Ms. Martinez. Further, as the principal, upon seeing the students were in the library without a teacher she should have directed them to go to class and to close out the games. Shortly after a letter was added to my file for the above described incident Ms. Martinez volunteered to write a letter detailing her recollection of the events (See Exhibit Q). This meeting was immediately followed by a second meetingwhich I shall continue to detail below.
In November, shortly after the assault incident, Ms. Juman approached my student, Student C, who had defended me from the assault and asked her about my “mental stability”. The following day Student C approached me to tell me about the exchange after the end of third period. I listened to Student C’s recollection of what had transpired. When she had finished I thanked her for expressing her feelings to me and told her to go to lunch before she missed the deliverance of food. I coincidentally had a meeting scheduled with Ms. Juman for fourth period during which I asked her about the exchange and she explained to me that she heard I cried after the assault and wanted to know if I were mentally strong enough for the job. I explained to her that she crossed a boundary in doing so and that I found it completely unprofessional to have approached an emotionally disturbed student, or any student for that matter, to discuss the mental state of a teacher. She then apologized for having potentially hurt my feelings and undermining me. She went on to say I must understand she was doing her due diligence to ensure that her students were safe.
In March, Student C began skipping my Intervention and when I approached her about the matter she stated she was better off going home early and that was what her parents preferred. I have included a look into Student C’s behavior as Exhibit O. I then advised Student C that she must bring a note from her parents stating what she had told me or that she attempt to make it to class. After this incident she continued to skip the class and I ultimately failed her. In my disciplinary meeting on March 27, 2014, Ms. Juman showed me a statement from Student C stating that I have “had it out for her” since [October] following the incident and that I threatened to tell Ms. Juman’s boss about the incident. Ms. Juman reassured me that she remembered our discussion in November and that she simply was following protocol when a student requests to write a complaint. In short, I was told that I was safe yet I received a letter with a consequence that did not match the initial allegation.
Further, if I were to have had a damaged relationship with Student C why would I have waited until March to affect her grades (See Exhibit P). The initial accusation is that I bullied Student C for information but instead received a letter for professional misconduct for stating, “I’m going to tell Ms. Juman’s boss”. Furthermore, the consensus that Ms. Juman reached on her own is based entirely on a statement written by Victoria, without consideration of what I had to say and did not rely on any other information to reach her conclusion. There was no proof of Student C having been intimidated by me, because I didn’t, and is based on what is being collected four months after the alleged incident. Lastly, she mentions that I have to set clear boundaries with students in the letter however, a clear boundary was crossed when she opened a discussion with a student about a teacher’s mental stability.
A few weeks following this meeting, Student C and I were on great terms, again. Shortly after receiving her new marking period grades she was promptly switched out of my Intervention and the failing grade I had given her was expunged from her record (See Exhibit P). She excitedly showed me her grades for she had been improving when I noticed the change in grade. I did not comment on the change.
Shortly after, in April, I found out that I was being investigated for verbal abuse against another student, Student F. This accusation came shortly after I had called home to inform his father that he was misbehaving and that as a representative of all of his teachers this was a recurring theme across his classes. The day of the meeting his father accused me of mistreating Student F. After this meeting, Ms. Lanzillotto, a teacher, approached a paraprofessional to write a statement against me. My understanding is that according to regulation, only a dean or an administrator has the right to request official statements. According to a subsequent statement written by Ms. B, the paraprofessional, dated April 11, 2014 she was coerced into writing false allegations and was given a series of leading questions (See Exhibit Q).
After Student F made his allegations against me his behavior began to decline further and he was unable to perform the tasks necessary to pass my class. I tried using Positive Behavior Supports with Student F including a school wide system known as “Jag Bucks” to reinforce adaptive behavior. Student F was unfortunately unresponsive and ultimately the guidance counselor thought it best to remove him from the classroom.
On May 20, 2014 I received an email from Nicole Lanzillotto stating that a discussion revolving around Student F’s placement would be discussed after a couple of months of speculation that he would benefit from a different environment (See Exhibit R). During the subsequent meeting it was introduced that he would have to be placed into the sixth grade ICT class. Ms. S, the veteran Special Educator who co-taught said ICT, who was mentioned earlier in this letter stated, “Over my dead body, that boy will disrupt everything that I have done in that class”. At this point, I asked for further support in terms of encouraging Student F to complete his work however, my pleas went unnoticed by the Administration and Nicole Lanzillotto, the head of the Special Education Department.
Afterwards, my entire Self-Contained Language Arts class was interrogated regarding my relationship with Student F. I have included my documentation of Student F’s behavior as Exhibit R.
Student G, an alternate assessment student in my class approached me at the start of 9th period Intervention stating that he was scared. He then continued to describe that all of the students of my class had been interviewed by both Administrators and stated, “They asked me if you ever cursed out Student F and he’s trying to get you fired” in front of a room of several other students. I immediately alerted Mr. DaSilva of this situation given that now the integrity of the investigation has been compromised. A second accusation arose from this stating that I sent a student to attack Student F Valle.
During the subsequent meeting I was told by Mr. DaSilva that he had interviewed the student who allegedly bullied Student F, Student H. I was told that Student H had stated he overheard from Student I about the investigation regarding Student F and on his own accord decided to confront Student F. Mr. DaSilva reiterated that the allegation solely was about Student H and that I would not receive a letter for some other nuanced issue that may have arisen. Needless to say, I received a fourth letter added to my file dated July 3, 2014 where that promise had not been kept. Once again, I was, and am, concerned about the inappropriateness of interviewing students with emotional disturbances and with intellectual disabilities. Further, why is it that I had to deal with the ramifications of the Administrators’ inability to run an investigation that is not compromised? I had now become the scapegoat for their mismanagement of the investigation process. In the letter dated July 3, 2014 I noticed quotes from statements that never been shown to me nor my Chapter Leader, Ms. R including, “Ms. V. came to the classroom and started talking about Student F and that he is a liar and that he is not a good kid.”
During my Summative Meeting I requested Ms. R to join me as my chapter leader. Ms Juman spoke of my pedagogy highly and criticized my practices under Domain 4. At this time she brought up my preference sheet (Exhibit S), which on the top includes my stance of “uncertain” in terms of returning to the school. I explained that once again I felt that my career was in jeopardy especially given that I received three letters in the matter of a week. She told me, in front of my union representation that the letters were simply for me to learn from and that, “no one is out to get you, I want you to stay here. Please, keep me updated if you still decide to go elsewhere”. Ms. R asked Mr. DaSilva why I had not received a counseling memo instead to which he responded, “The Network says we can no longer give those out.” My chapter leader then voiced that I would continue to search for employment. After having left this meeting I felt alleviated and trusted Ms. Juman’s word.
Less than a week after I received the Letter of Possible Discontinuance I received an updated package, which now stated my license could possibly be terminated. Because I voiced concern for the needs of my students I am being dealt a difficult card and an ultimatum. I am alarmed and concerned for my future as an educator. As I mentioned earlier, this is where I see myself until retirement, in a classroom serving our students and showing them a love for learning.
Please note that as an educator my value was not questioned by the Administration. I created well differentiated, well developed lesson plans. The classroom environment was supportive of student learning and accommodating. Please refer to Exhibit U where I have enclosed an image of my bulletin board with clearly tiered assignment and the outcome for one of my alternate assessment students, Student J. Student J had a very poor attendance rate and could not write a well-constructed paragraph, let alone an essay. She presented difficulties when expressing the main idea and finding supporting details. I found that she was highly interested in the topic of bullying and therefore assigned her the topic of bullying and suicide. She created an argumentative essay based on the topic which I have enclosed (Exhibit T).
Refer to Exhibit N where I have enclosed a letter from a parent speaking of my impact on her son as well as notes from students. My delivery of lessons allowed for open discussion and personal growth across my students. Although the Principal had given me a 1 (i.e. ineffective) for Participating in the Community under Domain 4 I worked hard to support my community. I ran study hall after school for several months. I tutored students and aided them in completing projects even if they were for courses outside my own.
I also facilitated zero period credit recovery for high school students who were lacking credits. In September after our staff retreat I aided in recreating the activities for those staff members who were unable to attend and facilitated the activities after school. I volunteered in October to speak at a school recruitment fair, for which I received a letter dated October 18, 2013 (See Exhibit U). In May I received a note from Ms. Juman thanking me for helping other staff members with their bulletin boards when I was given two days’ notice that I would be given one to complete (See Exhibit U). On March 26, 2014 I also led a Special Education Department Meeting, see the attached agenda found in Exhibit U. On most days I would be found leaving the school around seven after planning, preparing materials for my class, or helping students in study hall. According to Danielson the above mentioned description of the duties I completed can be described as at least a 3 (effective).
Overall, I have inherited an experience I would not trade. However, I do believe that given my overall rating of Developing; my overall rapport with students; and my drive to come up with innovative methods to increase student engagement, that I should not have my license terminated. This year has been a trying one but I believe that in the right environment, with the appropriate supports I can grow to become an even better educator. I view myself as a lifelong learner and hope to grow in this field and master my trade. Throughout my year at School for International Studies I have been consistently given disciplinary notices instead of supports. Is it not the onus of the Administration to ensure that I succeed? I would much prefer discontinuance rather than a termination of my license, as harsh of a punishment as it may be, so that I may start anew elsewhere and learn from the mistakes I have committed this past year and remain in the classroom.
There you have it. It's sad.