Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Wall of Silence About NYC's Rubber Rooms

This guest column is by Jennifer who sent this to the NYCORE listserve. Her raising the rubber room in the context of social justice and humanitarian activism is an important angle to consider as she challenges radical teachers to address the issue. NYCORE's increasing interest in labor/union issues is a very welcome addition to the debate.

Rubber Rooms are the most glaringly obvious example of the Bloomberg Administration disregard for Human Rights. The "buzz" is that talking about the rubber rooms is dangerous. Teachers and organizations that deem themselves radical won't even breach the subject.

What does this say about us as Teachers, Social Leaders, Humanitarians and/or Activist when we sit back silently and allow the current administration to use rubber rooms to destroy innocent Teachers,Whistle blowers and students lives.

The public has been made aware of the Rubber Rooms by a few journalist and media outlets who have been willing to share the story but to-date there has been little to no activism around the issue of the Rubber Rooms by the Teachers.

The guestimation is that over 1000 Teachers are languishing in rubber rooms all over the city yet, they too remain virtually silent about this national tragedy.

A big rally was held for the plight of the ATR's but their story is just the tip of the iceberg and nothing compared to the unethical use of rubber rooms as a political weapon against Teachers and their student.

The current crisis of Rubber Rooms and our silence as Teachers about their illegal use is saddening.

This story and the silence we are maintaining about it is one of the greatest shames of the city today and we teachers, as a whole are helping to perpetuate its deadly impact.

When I think about the reality of the part Teachers played in the deep south during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, I'm reminded that in truth, it was the Teachers who were the last ones to join in the fight for justice and humanity for African Americans back then.

In Alabama at the height of struggle, students began to become anxious to join in the city marches against Jim Crow. As they gathered among themselves at their schools, they began to become more and more agitated about remaining in the schools while marches against the system were taking place in town.

It was Teachers and their Administrators who under fear of losing control of the students, locked the gates to barricade them inside. In response, students jumped over school gates and joined the marches and propelled the Civil Rights Movement forward.

Teachers are we on the wrong side of history again? What example are we really setting for the children when we lay silent about the current administrations' use of Rubber Rooms and why do we do it?



  1. Well said, something has to be done about the rubber room. In reality, the teachers, who have been kept in the rubber room, are political prisoners, the only difference is that they go home every night.

  2. Jennifer, I appreciated your comments on the rubber room. Yes, the "rubber room" is used as a political weapon against teachers who speak out and advocate for teachers and students. The very existence of these modern-day dungeons is arcane, bizarre, cruel, unusual, scandalous and outrageous.

    In fact, people outside our strange world of the DOE have a lot of trouble even grasping the concept!

    The reason there was a big rally for the escalating ATR situation was that we organized school-by-school with petitions, meetings, protests --until the UFT leadership had to recognize they had a mini teacher-rebellion on their hands and they better do something to get in front of it. Then, of course the Weingarten/Unity "team" flinched at the last minute, as we totally expected. None the less, they couldn't destroy our very powerful rally.

    That is the kind of work that needs to go on about the rubber rooms, school closures, high stakes testing, and the ongoing racist discrimination against teachers and students that Jonathan Kozol documents so powerfully in "American Apartheid."

    I was active in the civil rights movement, and I'm not sure which struggle in Alabama you're referring to. I'd like to know more.

    Teachers are in a kind of intermediate situation politically, and it can go both ways. So you get some situations where teachers are way too conservative. But you also get Oaxaca, where the teachers union has been leading an insurrection for the past four or five years! And the Puerto Rican teachers union FMPR which last spring led one of the most radical and powerful workers struggle in the hemisphere.

    On January 22, some UFT radical union activists from various groups are having a forum for discussion debate. It will be held at CUNY grad center. I hope you'll come and raise these issues at length!

    Marjorie Stamberg

  3. Kudos on the rubber room issue.

    A point that is rarely raised is that tenure ought to protect the rights of teachers to teach in the classroom and not merely to remain employees of the BOE.

    AFT's position on this is weak. Their guidance to reassigned (rubber room) teachers is essentially to be grateful for the continued paycheck and be silent about it...and then to settle, settle, settle. Of course almost any settlement is bound to be strike one or even strike one and strike two against a tenured, experienced, and generally innocent teacher. And, of course, any settlement merely emboldens the DOE and their principals.

    At the risk of repeating myself, the AFT, through its negligent advice to teachers, has facilitated the 3020-a growth industry as well as the growing rubber room population. In short, the AFT has enabled the current and growing rubber room situation.

    My advice (and I am involved in my own 3020-a now) to all is NOT to settle and to instead insist on an arbitrator's decison. It is a dirty little secret that the DOE offers settlements (in most cases) because they can extract sanctions harsher than an arbitrator is likely to order. Don't be fooled by the AFT party line that settlements are offered by DOE to save time and expense. They have all the time and the money in the world for pursuing 3020-as. If the charges are bogus, insist that the AFT motions to bill DOE the costs associated with your defense.

    The AFT will only halt their enabling methods if we force all 3020a's to go to an arbitrator.

  4. Hi, anon:

    Your suggestions regarding the 3020a are very helpful. wondering if I can contact you vie my private email address, which is deng@ucc.edu. You are welcome to contact me on this email address.

  5. I think the Rubber Room was lastyear's flavor and the UFT feels they're done because they got a few more judges hired. RR folks need to come at the UFT with something else --- like repercussions for those who make spurious charges.

  6. I kept writing AFT when I should have written UFT. deng@ucc.edu I am a bit gunshy as things are moving in my direction. I can tell you this, before my hearing (literally moments before) I was offered a letter and a fine. As the case has moved on they have lowered their offer and are now willing to let me back if I sign a release from claims and confidentiality agreement. Some cases are like mine, the more they advance the weaker they get. If your case is like that I would suggest moving forward. When mine is over I will be a resource for all the victims in this unjust process.

  7. to Anon:
    I look forward to hearing from in near future. There are about 10 people before my case, it will take some time to get there.

  8. To Anon

    You've got mail. I'll help if I can.


  9. Good dialogue guys. And good luck.
    Anon - your story is crucial for people to know so they can be ready for DOE tactics. If we can get it out there when you are safe, let us know.

    If you need my help in any way contact me.

  10. It seems different countries, different cultures, we really can decide things in the same understanding of the difference!
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