Legislators Urge Change in Teacher Disciplinary Practice

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (right) lets Francisco Garabitos (left) address the press after he interrupts the protest. Garrabitos who spent time in the rubber room said, "I don't like people talking about teachers without listening to the teachers."

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (right) lets Francisco Garabitos (left) address the press after interrupting a protest. Garrabitos who spent time in the rubber room said, "I don't like people talking about teachers without listening to the teachers." (Mamta Badkar/The Bronx Ink)

A yellow school bus pulled up outside 501 Courtlandt Ave. at noon today. Instead of students though, it carried New York State Senator Rubén Diaz Sr., Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, members of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization and concerned parents. The group got off the door of a Bronx rubber room. Created as part of a contractual measure to prevent the arbitrary dismissal of teachers in city schools, these centers serve as temporary reassignment for teachers awaiting disciplinary action. About 100 teachers are believed to show up here five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are assigned to rooms in which they do not teach. They get holidays off, including the snow day yesterday, and an hour for lunch, but only a handful stepped outside in the presence of the reporters. Today, about 25 protesters rallied to cries of “let’s close the rubber rooms,” to draw attention to the strain the reassignment centers place on city funds. “At a time when we’re looking at severe budget cuts, why is the city continuing a process that is throwing money down the drain when the money is so desperately needed in our classrooms?” Crespo said. The New York Post recently revealed that teachers in the rubber room had been waiting up to seven years without stepping foot into a functional classroom, though still earning publicly financed salaries. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. objected to the system, which he said wastes city money and leaves teachers hanging in the interim. One teacher who did not wish to be identified said he was sent to a reassignment center for being caught driving under the influence of alcohol. “If they are guilty they should be expelled, if they are innocent they should be put back in the classroom, but they cannot continue paying 660 teachers for sitting down and doing nothing,” Diaz said. “I’m asking our leader to allow me to submit and pass in the Senate legislation to end this parasite.” As many as 660 teachers are believed to be in limbo across 12 rubber rooms in the city while they await the arbitration of their cases. For some, like Francisco Garabitos, the wait is too long. He quit in July 2009, a few months after he was arrested on accusations that he had falsely claimed to have planted a bomb at New Millenium Business Academy Middle School. Garrabitos said he spent $10,000 suing the Department of Education. “The assumption is that if you’re in there, you’re guilty,” Garabitos said. “The teachers deserve due process, too.”