I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tenure Hypocrisy Update

Here's your latest update on the Perth Amboy tenure hypocrisy case:

When we last checked in, ACTING NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf had reinstated anti-tenure superintendent Janine Caffrey, overriding the vote of the PA school board. In other words, Caffrey used an appeal to a third-party to protect her right to due process - which is exactly the definition of tenure. The hypocrisy here is stunning.

NJ Spotlight has posted Cerf's decision. You'll notice that he's very slick here (he is, after all, a lawyer): he is not addressing the substance of the charges, but instead the procedure. There is little doubt in my mind that this is a maneuver designed to protect him from the charge of hypocrisy, because TEACHNJ - the tenure-gutting bill currently working through the Legislature - does allow for appeal on procedure only.

Nice try, but no. First of all, Cerf explicitly retains jurisdiction over the matter: he is saying he is the final arbitrator, not the school board. Again, this is exactly what tenure is supposed to be: a third party overrides a decision of a local school board as a way of offering protection from political or other undesirable interference. Cerf's decision confirms that Caffrey can appeal to him as the ultimate authority on her employment.

Second, he is using the power of his office to insert a mediator into the situation. I suppose the PA BOE could rebuff this, but even the gesture confirms that this is now Cerf's show, not the BOE's. I'm also left to wonder if Cerf is prepared to offer these services to every tenured teacher who is fired.

Third: what happens if Cerf looks at the charges against Caffrey and finds they are not true? Is he really prepared to shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, it's not my decision, because they followed procedure"? Not a chance.

His involvement, his move to stop this on procedural grounds, his insertion of a mediator into the matter, and his decision to make himself the ultimate authority for an appeal means he can enforce her reinstatement on whatever grounds he chooses from now on. The school board cannot act without his OK. Caffrey does not need to make her case to them; she need only make it to Cerf, the third-party.

On the other side, even if the BOE produces evidence that Caffrey should be dismissed, they have to present that evidence to him first. He has the decision, not them. This is the essence of tenure, and it's massively hypocritical that the tenure-busters are prepared to give Caffrey this right to appeal to an outside authority, but they will not give that same right to teachers.

Every one of Caffrey's supporters that I have read or seen has made the case that a politically motivated school board is out to get her. Again, I don't know if that's the case: she may well be in the right here. All the more reason to offer teachers workplace protections to give them recourse from the actions of vindictive employers.

If you believe Janine Caffrey, then you must believe in the need for tenure. But if you support both Caffrey and TEACHNJ, well...

One more thing: there was an awful story yesterday about a teacher who physically abused a special education student and was finally dismissed after four years by ACTING Commissioner Cerf. Let's put aside the very convenient timing for a minute...

This teacher was caught on camera hitting the student with a power cord. The teacher claims the student was bigger than the teacher (he was 13 years old; I guess that's possible). An administrative judged ruled the teacher overreacted to a perceived threat, and called for a suspension without pay. Cerf overruled that, saying the teacher was deliberate and abusive.

Again: I don't know what happened. But two things are clear:

This case never should have taken four years. It is ridiculous that a case with video evidence took this long. But tenure itself has nothing to do with the length of the delay; that's on the people who were supposed to prosecute and administer this case.

The solution is simple: cap the length of a tenure hearing. Force the state to provide adjudicators who can deal with the stuff in a timely matter. No one - not the teacher, not the student, not his family - deserves to be left hanging for that long. Caffrey got swift justice; why didn't the parties here get the same?

Next point: why was this situation allowed to happen in the first place? Were there other people in the room? Did this teacher have help? Why were cameras installed; was someone waiting for something inevitable to happen?

Teaching special education students - especially those with severe disabilities - is perhaps the most difficult job I can think of, outside of the military and law enforcement. It can be dangerous, it can be emotionally draining, and it comes with little pay and little respect.

Can we say, as a society, that we were doing all we could for this boy and this teacher? Or do we prefer to wait until things like this happen, then huff and puff about greedy teachers unions?


Madagan said...

Hi Duke-
I would LOVE to talk with you sometime. I am currently working as a teacher in PA. This situation is very sad, and the District is regressing.

Duke said...

Send me a Facebook message. :-)

Madagan said...

Nope. Tell ya what, you leave me a message: Madagan5915@gmail.com

Actually, I do not have a FB account because of work.