I want to say that I write this with overwhelming glee. I want to say that I write this while in a state of euphoria and with a Kool-Aid smile, but unfortunately I cannot. There are just too many losers in this 2+ year saga. In fact, I cannot think of one winner. Not one.
Before we get to the long-awaited finale of this chapter, there are some things that you should know or that I should remind you of (in case you have been following this blog for some time):
- On January 30, 2012 I received the first negative components of my teaching career. They were three separate investigations called to the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) and two disciplinary notices. I believe it is safe to say that this was the day that my career was put in the cross-hairs. Letters of recommendation up until October 2011 and then five negative components in the same day tells me the goal was “FIRE HIM!” I fought, the best I could, more than I thought I ever could, for 826 days to make sure they did not succeed.
- From the day I was removed, April 26, 2012, to the day of the decision below, was 737 days. “Fast and Fair” were the words of former NYC DOE Chancellor Joel Klein and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg when they shut down the Reassignment Centers in 2010.
- Number of actual school days that I was paid not to teach leading up to this decision was 365.
- The bill, paid by the taxpayers, to attempt to fire one whistleblower parent and teacher, is estimated at over $600,000. The breakdown, used to come up with this estimate, will be for another post. Just imagine 2 years of salaries for me, the substitutes,many attorneys, investigators, other school and central administration.
- There were 21 days of hearings for my public 3020-a. The cost of the hearing alone was estimated at over $80,000.
- There were 24 witnesses.
- Tenure…sweet, sweet, tenure. The beautiful law that “…was developed to protect independent-minded educators from the whims of administrators.“
- The decision is 107 pages. Too many pages to include here in its entirety.
- The 38 charges are also called Specifications and when you see something like T.2345, that references transcript page 2,345.
- Number of students, negatively impacted by this unlawful and unwarranted exile, is unknown.
One last thing before you read whether or not they succeeded in firing me….
THANK YOU! Thank you for your countless, countless messages, retweets, likes, emails and advice. This stopped being my fight a looong time ago. This was (is) OUR fight!
Without further ado here are excerpts for now:
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION,
– V. –
FRANCESCO PORTELOS, Respondent
Pursuant to Education Law § 3020-a.
Pursuant to Section 3020-a of the New York State Education Law, Charges were
preferred by the Department of Education of the City School District of the City of New
York (“Department” or “DOE”) against tenured teacher Francesco Portelos
(“Respondent”) alleging that Respondent engaged in violations of the City Charter,
Board Rules, Chancellor’s Regulations, criminal conduct, violations of Department
policies, neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming his position and conduct prejudicial to the
good order of the service. Dept. Ex. 1.^ The Department seeks, as a penalty,
Respondent’s dismissal from service. Respondent requested a hearing on the charges
and I was appointed as Hearing Officer.
On March 14, 2014, the Department requested that the record be reopened
because of a letter the Special Commissioner’s Office on Investigations (“SCI”) had
issued to the Hearing Officer. This letter stated that SCI had discovered an error in its
report and in the testimony of one of the investigators regarding documents on Respondent’s Department computer that were referenced in Specification 3. After
Respondent contacted SCI, they reviewed the material and determined that these
documents had been retrieved from the Internet and not from Respondent’s DOE
computer. During a conference call on that date, the Department withdrew Specification 3 and the March 11, 2014 letter from SCI was admitted. Joint Ex. 1; T. 3636-3645.
I make the following findings of fact based upon the entire evidentiary record,
including credibility determinations. Despite the voluminous record in this proceeding
which consists of over 3600 transcript pages and 94 exhibits, many of the relevant facts
are not in dispute.
Respondent has been employed and assigned to I.S. 49 since 2007.
Respondent and his wife, who is also a teacher, live in the vicinity of I.S. 49.
Respondent left a higher paying position as an environmental engineer because he
decided to enter the “noble profession of education.” Respondent has a Bachelor’s
degree in engineering and later received a Master’s degree in general science
education. Initially, he was a substitute at I.S. 49 and Principal Linda Hill hired him in
2007 as a science teacher. In 2008, the Principal asked Respondent to take over the
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) lab when the position became
available. There were four technology labs at the school. T. 2026-2066.
Between 2007 and 2011, Respondent was highly regarded by the Principal and
other administrators. Both Principal Hill and Respondent described their working
relationship as very positive. T. 37-39, 2068. In the fall of 2011, Respondent received a
letter of recommendation from Principal Hill and two other Assistant Principals for the
Leadership Academy program he was enrolled in to become an administrator. Principal
Hill noted that:
“Francesco works tirelessly assisting and motivating his students to
complete assigned work and reach his or her highest potential. Mr.
Portelos is dedicated and hard working, giving the school access to the
best technology the school can offer to our students and staff as well.“
Two years ago, Mr. Portelos helped us create a dynamic computer lab to
teach STEM with … grant funding, often staying late hours on weekdays
and on weekends to ensure a quality lab.
Assistant Principal Martino also provided Respondent with a letter of
recommendation which described him as an “outstanding professional in every way. He
is dependable, conscientious, organized and prepared.” Resp. Ex. 2. She also noted
that he is “highly respected, not only by the faculty and students at I.S. 49, but also by
our parents and community members.”
Assistant Principal Ruzzi also provided a letter
of recommendation which observed that Mr. Portelos is the “lead teacher in the school’s
technology department and played an integral part in placing Dreyfus on the map as
having exemplary technology programs.” Resp. Ex. 2.
In addition to teaching. Respondent volunteered for technological and other
supportive activities for the school such as coaching the robotics team and developing
the school’s website (Dreyfus49.org) with another technology teacher. He,
along with other technology teacher, developed Power Point presentations about the technology program at I.S. 49 which impressed parents and recruited new students. T. 39, 2081-2082. Respondent also spent considerable time assisting other faculty and students
with technology or computer-related issues.
In September of 2011, Respondent became a member of the SLT. T. 2236. The
school’s UFT Chapter Leader, Dr. Richard Candia, also asked Respondent to join the
Union Consultation Committee and encouraged Respondent to run for the position of
Union Delegate. Respondent was elected to the Union Delegate position in November
2011. Respondent testified that he got involved in these entities to improve the school
and became privy to more information about the school. T. 2114. Both of these
positions set the stage for disagreements and concerns Respondent came to have with
Dr. Candia, Ms. Abramowitz and the administration regarding school policy and union
affairs. Most of the Specifications regarding the 2011-2012 school year relate to
conduct that involved Respondent, the Principal, Dr. Candia and Ms. Abramowitz
between January and March 2012 and are pivotal in evaluating both credibility and the arguments raised by Respondent regarding retaliation. These events are discussed
[I will leave the many pages of the story for another post and skip to the opinion and award]
Many of the Specifications have been dismissed. Further, prior to February
2012, Respondent had an unblemished and stellar record. It is also mitigating for
purposes of the penalty that Respondent’s raising issues of public concern with the SLT
played a part in bringing him into the disciplinary arena. This was an extracurricular and
volunteer activity that he engaged in to improve the school. It is also an extenuating
circumstance that he had no Chapter Leader to defend him because Dr. Candia had
initiated many of the allegations and aligned himself with the administration.
The Department advances several arguments to support the proposition that
Respondent is “irremediable.” These include his initiation of investigations against
administrators, use of FOIL and other litigation. In this regard, the Department relies
upon uncharged conduct and activity that may be protected by the First Amendment,
FOIL, the collective bargaining agreement and other laws. Even though Respondent’s
defense has been aggressive. Department witnesses conceded that he has the right to defend fiimself against the charges and represent his members as Chapter Leader. ^
The Department also notes the amount of disruption that Respondent created at
I.S. 49. As discussed throughout this Opinion, the causes of the disruption are diverse
and, as Principal Hill recognized, are not all attributable to the misconduct by
Further, Respondent cannot be deemed irremediable because he publicized his
discipline, the 3020-a process in a contentious and public way. For the bulk of the
charged years there were no social media guidelines. The new guidelines, promulgated
in the spring of 2013, do not ban personal blogs and further state that they alone will not
be used for disciplinary purposes absent a showing of a violation of regulation, law or
policy. Despite the provocative nature of his postings and airing of his disciplinary
process, there has been no showing that the notoriety regarding his charges or
reassignment “seriously compromised his ability to retain the respect of students and to
be perceived as a responsible adult to whom they should pay attention.” See Matter of
Goldin v. Board of Ed. 45 A.D.2d 870 (1974).
The Department also contends that Respondent was disingenuous when he
testified that if returned to I.S. 49 he would work professionally and cooperatively with
Principal Hill. Yet as Respondent points out, there is not a single allegation that he was
ever rude, disrespectful or defiant to the Principal or any other administrator.^” On January 31, 2013, two weeks before these hearings concluded, Respondent had a
meeting with Pnncipal Hill with the Union Consultation Committee which he testified was
cordial and professional. T. 3377.
The Department also maintains that Respondent’s lack of remorse makes him
irremediable. It appears that Respondent became so consumed in his defense that he
was unable to reflect on how he may have contributed to his dilemma or how some of
his conduct affected I.S. 49. This is especially so, as Superintendent Claudio testified,
during the 2012-2013 school year when he was removed from I.S. 49, relieved of all
teaching responsibilities and had so much time to “stew” about what had happened. T.
549. Nonetheless, Respondent’s admissions, conduct, demeanor and demonstrated
commitment to education persuade me that, if given the chance, he can resume his
career as a highly effective educator.
Finally, the record is replete with evidence of Respondent’s exceptional teaching
and abilities from the administration, colleagues, parents and students. Only a few
months before things spiraled out of control, three administrators noted his significant
contributions to the school and highly recommended him to become an administrator.
Resp. Ex. 2. There was also testimony that Respondent worked collegially with other
teachers at I.S. 49 and volunteered his time to assist them with technological issues. T.
1779, 1921-1922. Many colleagues and parents testified regarding his dedication to
children and his ability to get “even the most troubled child’s attention and get them
interested in a lesson.” Given the challenging population of students at I.S. 49
this is no small feat. The unique attributes of this teacher, which the Department has
minimized, has many years ahead of him to provide a quality education to students and
make a difference in their lives. At the same time, Respondent, in his quest to defend
himself, lost sight of the fact that the Department is his employer, and not his enemy.
Notwithstanding the events of the last two years. Respondent must refocus his energies
on their shared mission of educating children.
After two years of reassignment, it is important that Respondent be returned to
the classroom. I have determined that the appropriate penalty for Respondent’s
misconduct is a substantial fine of $10,000.
Thank you! Thank you again for your support. A big thank you to my lovely wife who had to raise our amazing boys and run the house in my physical and mental absence.
I will explain the $10,000 fine and specifications in more detail at a later time. Most of the 38 were dismissed and some smaller ones were sustained.
So I finally get to go back to Berta A. Dreyfus IS 49 to be a teacher to my students and chapter leader to my members!
When? Hopefully Monday. Yes, I know that they may still try to come after me, but that is my community school.
See email I sent to many:
From: “Francesco Portelos” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: May 6, 2014 12:30 PM
Subject: Portelos 3020-a Decision and Return to IS 49
To: “Linda Hill” <email@example.com>, “Jenkins Jessica (31R063)” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Zaharakis Despina” <email@example.com>, “Thomas Fox” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “JAguirre3@schools.nyc.gov” <email@example.com>, “Denise Diacomanolis” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Anne Marie Martino” <email@example.com>, “Mala Ruzi” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Rodi Katherine G.” <email@example.com>, “Nacht Michele J” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, “Fariña Carmen” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Ramirez Ursulina” <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Brodsky David” <email@example.com>, “Conyers Donald” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Feijoo Laura” <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, “RSinger4” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Vazquez Marisol” <email@example.com>, “Greenfield Robin” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Courtenaye Jackson-Chase” <email@example.com>, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com>, “CEC31@schools.nyc.gov” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Phil Roberto” <email@example.com> Cc: “Sean Rotkowitz” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Debra Penny” <email@example.com>, “Adam Ross” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I received the great news. After over 730 days, in educator exile, I will finally be reinstated and be returning back to educate the youth of IS 49. I look forward to it. I do however want to suggest that perhaps a meeting take place before I return. Perhaps some feel it is not necessary, however I am just making a suggestion.
When can I anticipate my official return? Perhaps we can arrange for a day or two of overlap with the substitute. I do also think it’s time to re-enable my DOE email and payroll access. It has been suspended since May 7, 2012.
Lastly, where does the $10,000 fine go? I was wondering if it could be allocated to IS 49’s Arts and Music program. Who can I speak to about that?
IS 49 UFT Chapter Leader
Don’t Tread on Me. Don’t Tread on Educators. One big point for teacher tenure around the country.
[drop the mic]
[UPDATE 5/9/14] DOE Won’t Throw in the Towel. I am now an ATR
Also read my 3 part series on A Case for Tenure