Legal Loophole OK's Creepy New York Teachers

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Nobody likes a loophole - law and order is often thwarted by technicalities, usually favoring the unjust players involved and screwing the rest of us. But what's more frustrating than a legal shortcut? One that involves children.

Over the past three months, 14 cases involving 16 different teachers have been brought to the New York City Education Department, all of which contained extremely creepy educators who crossed the line at public schools across the five boroughs. If the forthcoming details are accurate in the least bit, any logical person's immediate reaction would be to bar these freaks from returning to the classroom. 

But that's not how the educational legal system of the City works and, because of this, a state-paid all-authoritative arbitrator has let the group of 16 off the hook, slapping them with a fine or suspension and a shrug of the shoulder.

Dennis M. Walcott, the city's education chancellor, balked at the decision after he sought to fire four teachers involved but was met with a technicality. He admitted to the New York Times that he was powerless in the judicial section of his own department: "Definitely my hands are tied because the arbitrator made a ruling, because I would not have put these people back in these classrooms."

And Walcott's not the only caged head honcho.

"If you were an ax murderer, you might get a slap on the wrist," Mayor Michael Bloomberg quasi-comically remarked this morning on his weekly radio show. The comment was directed at the bias nature of the arbitrator, a person that is picked by Bloomberg's administration and the teacher union and can be vetoed out of office by both powers. 

Relating the arbitration to "dictatorship," the Mayor quipped, "The problem is, who picks the dictator?" Thus, the power of interests: the arbitrator cannot make a decision that angers the union, knowing that, if he or she does, they could be the ones getting fired.

As a barrier between emotions and facts, the arbitration system, demanded by the unions, was codified into state law and gave teachers the right to have their own fates heard in a court of law. It was done in the hope that the Education Department would not fire tenured educators based on personal grudges of the principal or student involved. With that being said, once the arbitrator makes a decision, the Department could appeal it to a higher court except, due to the unions' sway, the standards for appeal are set at a high bar that none of the cases have met.

The terrible conundrum runs deeper when we look at the details of the arbitrator's decision. Most of the cases involve lewd text messages, stalking, teachers telling students that they love them and a bunch of other stories that gives us goosebumps. But there's a couple that stand out to shine a light on the bigger picture.

Take Joseph Ponzo, for example. The Bronx assistant principal was charged a few days ago with sexually groping two young girls' chests, ages 10 and 11. He is waiting to be arraigned but, if the arbitration's decision process is any indication, he should be exonerated. His only punishment for now: reassignment to another school.

Or Norman Siegel, a science teacher in the Bronx who was also charged with groping a student. He was let loose from court when the arbitrator decided that, although he maybe/probably/definitely touched the girl, he was nowhere near her genitals; therefore, he only received 45 days without pay and "sensitivity training."

In other words, we currently have a system that lays off hundreds of "poor performing" teachers and closes "poor performing" schools but lets people like these back into the classroom.


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