Reassignment centers are holding facilities for the New York City Department of Education, where more than 600 teachers accused of misconduct have been paid to work full-time doing nothing for months or years at a time while awaiting resolution of their cases. Among teachers they are referred to as rubber rooms. The city has 13 reassignment centers.
In The Rubber Room, it is also claimed that the city's teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers, neglects to provide proper representation to teachers assigned to reassignment centers. Exonerated teachers often become absent teacher reserve teachers.
The Department of Education blamed union rules that made it difficult to fire teachers. Some teachers assert that they have been sent to reassignment centers because they are whistleblowers against administrators for falsifying student test results or publicly challenging former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Three Department of Education employees speaking to the UFT's "New York Teacher," confirmed teachers' allegations that Fordham High School for the Arts principal Iris Blige filed allegations against the school's UFT chapter leader, to place her in a reassignment center, in order to intimidate her and to set an example to the school's staff.
Reassignment centers arose as a budgetary concern in bureaucratic studies and press coverage in Spring 2008, and cost the city more than $65 million per year in labor expenses. In April, 2010, the city and teachers' union reached an agreement to end the practice. This agreement came in the midst of the first public presentation of a documentary on the centers.
Since the rubber room agreement, the only substantive change has been that there are no longer large rooms filled with reassigned teachers. Teachers are typically reassigned within their own schools, or to other Department of Education buildings throughout the city. Although teachers are now being charged more quickly, it still takes several years to complete the hearing process and for the arbitrator to render a decision. Many teachers are subsequently brought up on "3020-a" charges, which refer to the section of the New York State education law dealing with the discipline of tenured teachers. Unlike any other school district in New York State, no independent panel must vote to prefer charges against a tenured teacher in New York City. The 3020-a trial is held before an independent arbitrator, who is paid by the New York State Education Department but is selected jointly by the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers.
In June 2012 it was revealed that the New York State Education Department had not paid its arbitrators for several years, and collectively owed them millions of dollars for cases they had completed, or were in the process of hearing. In frustration, ten of the 24 arbitrators on the New York City panel have quit, while the remaining 14 refuse to hear any testimony or issue any decisions until their back wages have been paid in full. This could take several more years to negotiate, further exacerbating the backlog of reassigned teachers.
Filmmakers Jeremy Garrett and Justin Cegnar of Five Boroughs Productions produced an independent documentary on the centers, called The Rubber Room, which was the basis for a segment on the radio program This American Life.
In popular culture
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- The final episode of NBC's Law & Order, titled "Rubber Room", featured reassignment centers, which a disgraced former teacher, falsely accused of molesting a student, was assigned to (and which subsequently drove him mad and inspired his attempts to blow up his former school).
- In the 2015 Showtime series The Affair, Noah Solloway (Dominic West) is sent to a New York City Department of Education reassignment center as punishment for having sex with a teacher colleague on school premises.
- In the 2015 Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy's GED class is being taught by an uninterested teacher who is purposely bad at his job in hopes of being sent to a reassignment center.
- Sara Kugler (2010-04-15). "NYC to stop paying teachers to do nothing". Associated Press.
- Freedman, Samuel G. (October 10, 2007). "Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates". The New York Times.
- village voice > nyclife > Class Dismissed by Mara Altman
- Education, DAVID ANDREATTA (March 12, 2007). "'Rubber-Room' Teachers Demand Rights". New York Post.
- uft.org/news/teacher/top/axed/Whistle-blower axed — again
- Jim Callaghan, "Bronx principal alleged to have teacher 'hit list' still on job," "New York Teacher," April 23, 2009[dead link]
- Einhorn, Erin (May 4, 2008). "Teachers in trouble spending years in 'rubber room' limbo that costs $65M". Daily News. New York.
- Rubber Room Movie
- This American Life