Thursday, January 31, 2008

Room With a View: The Queens Rubber Room

I had an out of body experience yesterday when I was invited over to the Queens Rubber Room by the gang who went to federal court last Monday with a lawsuit. They are calling themselves "Teachers 4 Action."

Going in. Video posted below.

I got off the Van Wyck at Linden Place and looked for the ugliest building I could find – where was the sign proclaiming I had reached Shit's Creek? Part of the DOE punishment manual - put 'em in places with bad architecture. Also, not exactly near good public transportation. I parked – illegally – behind the building but no one seemed to be watching.

I was greeted by the T4A organizing committee (I'm not mentioning their names here until they give me the ok, but they know who they are). I will mention Florian Lewenstein who has been out front with his lawsuit. You can read more about Florian and the suit in a story written by Meredith Kolodner in The Chief, posted at Norm's Notes.

What are they shredding over there?

Their lawyer, Ed Fagan, led the charge into the building and I followed his blocking, dodging and ducking like any good running back in the Super Bowl. We got up to the 4th floor where the detainees hang out. I will say, they do have a room with a view – of highways.

It was clearly not a normal day at the office for the confinees. I started taking pictures, which always make people nervous. But I was careful to focus on Ed and the background. Ed talked to people briefly to tell them about the lawsuit and to announce a lunchtime meeting at a nearby church.

There followed lots of milling about as the powers that be began to get organized and an order finally came down from the lady in charge, who was not on sight, that we had to leave. Teachers organized themselves into cars to go to the church.

Ed scans the sheet listing where people are "supposed" to be.

About 50 people, some from Rubber Rooms in other boroughs, showed up. After an introduction by Florian, Ed Fagan explained what this was all about. (RR activist and lawyer Joy Hochstadt was also on board.)

Using the metaphor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he reprised the words of the past: "They have awakened a sleeping giant with a terrible resolve. We will fight to win with righteous anger. If we lose, we will still win by shining a light and raising awareness. We are facing a Goliath but we have a mighty slingshot."

That pumped up the crowd, which having faced so much demoralization, certainly could use a pep rally. Fagan went on to the details.

He didn't shy away from the issue of there are people who may have done things that are serious. But he focused on the issue of no matter what they did, they still have a right in this society to their due process rights. The DOE MUST play by the rules. Is the way they were removed from their schools without charges or any information such a violation? Is the very existence of the rubber room, with its humiliating rules and procedures, such a violation?

Ed and Florian at the church.

The two judges involved seem pretty decent. The Federal judge is Victor Marrero, who struck down provisions of the Patriot Act – twice. A good sign for due process. There is also a Discovery Judge. (Legalese like "discovery" gives me the heebies. All I know about "discovery" is Columbus "discoveried" America - maybe.)

The Judge (one of them) asked for the case to be tightened up and they have to return to court next week.

Fagan asked people to conquer their fears and stand up for their rights. "Until you do, you will lose." The judge has assured if there is any retaliation, it is against the law.

As to exactly which people and agencies to sue, that is still being determined. The UFT is still a candidate to be sued.

The audience at the church.

Teachers4Action can be reached at:
Thanks to DB for video processing and editing.

No comments: