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Teachers Thrown Under the Bus- How New York City is Destroying its Greatest Assets

Our poor New York City teachers- they get hit from every angle.  Tough students, tougher parents, unsupportive administrations, a hostile press, factionalism within factionalism in their schools… I have represented many a teacher in my career, both in investigations by “SCI” (the Special Commissioner of Investigations- a branch of the New York City Department of Investigation), “OSI”, (the Department of Education’s internal agency), the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the NYPD.  What often stands out most is the pettiness and even sometimes complete lack of a basis for the investigations.

The common view of the New York City school system is that it’s such a huge beast of a system that the small things fall through the cracks.  In fact, it’s the complete opposite.  Everyone, up and down the line, is so afraid for their own job and own career, that it creates a “cover  your ass” mentality.  It’s fear of the next New York Post headline that drives the decision making.  So often no one is willing to stand up and call out a baseless investigation in its early stages.  Real lives suffer in the meantime.

Sometimes it goes as far as a criminal trial.  We recently won a trial for a teacher arrested on accusations of stepping on a student’s toe.  Of course the allegations were more exaggerated than that, but that’s just what they were- obvious exaggerations, from a problematic five year old student and his emotional grandmother who claimed my client stomped on his feet, put him in a headlock, and pinched him.  It was patent nonsense, but with a school administration, police department, and DA’s office all afraid to call it out (for fear of the New York Post), it took a sensible judge to find my client “not guilty”.

But don’t think my client didn’t suffer mightily simply from the prosecution, and don’t think the result couldn’t have gone the other way.  It’s time we started supporting teachers more, and going back to sometimes assuming the best, and not the worst, about our kids’ guardians and mentors.

Andrew Stoll is a New York City Criminal Defense, Civil Rights, and Employee Lawyer. He is the founding partner of Stoll, Glickman & Bellina, LLP, a Brooklyn based law firm dedicated to empowering the exploited. Stoll is an adjunct law professor at Seton Hall Law School, sits on the Corrections Committee of the New York City Bar Association, and is a member of the National Police Accountability Project.