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Proposal would speed teacher misconduct cases

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Teachers accused of misconduct should have their cases decided within a speedy 100 days by a special examiner and not be cast into an interminable limbo of waiting, said Kenneth Feinberg, the arbitration expert, who investigated teacher discipline at the request of the American Federation of Teachers.

On Thursday, Feinberg will release his plan for dealing with teacher misconduct like absenteeism, corporal punishment and sexual advances to students. In an interview Wednesday, he called the 100-day window for resolving cases a “radical” departure from current practice.

Misconduct cases have regularly embarrassed unions and school districts: Exhibit A was New York City’s so-called rubber rooms, where accused teachers idled away months or even years while cases were investigated, until they were closed last year.

In Ohio this month, a school board fired an eighth-grade science teacher found to have injected his Christian beliefs into his teaching, after two years of hearings that cost the local district $900,000.

Such incidents seem to be what prodded Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, to hire Feinberg to propose an alternative. Weingarten’s 1.5 million-member union clearly wanted to take the initiative on an issue that has hurt it in the public eye.

Feinberg, who is overseeing the distribution of $20 billion to victims of last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said he developed his proposal with no input from the union.

“The No. 1 obstacle that I discovered is the inordinate delays, the unjustifiable delays,” he said. Misconduct cases are governed by state laws, district rules and teachers’ contracts that grant tenured educators a right to due process — that is, administrators seeking to fire them must show cause and teachers have a right to a hearing.

Weingarten said she would recommend her membership use Feinberg’s proposal as a template in future collective bargaining.

“I think it’s thoughtful and a common-sense approach. I think it’s fairer and I think it’s faster,” she said Wednesday.

She expected there might be objections within her ranks from some teachers who view it as a weakening of protections they now enjoy, but “tenure was never intended to be a lifetime job guarantee,” she said. “It was intended to be about fairness and due process.”

Dan Weisberg, vice president for policy of the New Teacher Project, said Feinberg’s proposal was fine as far as it went, but speedy-hearing rules are already on the books in many states and routinely flouted.

“In my view, the way to ensure that both sides have an incentive to get these cases done quickly,” he said, is to give schools “the ability to terminate that employee and take them off the payroll” until a decision is reached.

Feinberg’s inquiry was limited to cases of teacher misbehavior, even though the most controversial tenure issue today is what to do about ineffective teachers. Weingarten promised a year ago to propose a new system for removing poor teachers, and on Wednesday she said the plan was still in the works.

In the meantime, a rising chorus of critics have proposed drastically overhauling tenure, or in the case of some, like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, abolishing it altogether.

 

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