President's perspective

Protecting children is our first priority

UFT President Michael Mulgrew - ProfileUFT President Michael Mulgrew Spreading lies and misinformation about the UFT has become something of a game for City Hall. It’s all part of a strategy to deflect from the public’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with the mayor and his mismanagement of our public schools. The latest salvo shamefully tried to politicize the issue of sexual misconduct against students and get in a few cheap shots against teachers.

The mayor wants New Yorkers to believe that the UFT’s contract prevents the Department of Education from taking action against teachers who have engaged in sexual misconduct against children. Nothing could be further from the truth. That kind of behavior is anything but a game, and the attempts by this administration to use it as a political tool are as reprehensible as they are transparent.

The UFT not only believes in zero tolerance on the issue of sexual misconduct with children, but we also proudly put in place the most stringent rules of any school district across the state governing such situations, including provisions in our contract that go far beyond state law. In fact, thanks to our contract, the DOE has the power to remove accused teachers immediately from the classroom, take them off payroll if there is a finding of probable cause, and terminate them if they are found guilty of sexual misconduct.

Education law 3020a requires school districts to terminate educators who are found guilty of certain types of sexual misconduct. Our contract mandates a person’s termination for an even wider array of malfeasance. The contract also allows a person to be terminated even in cases when that person hasn’t been criminally convicted, but an independent arbitrator has found them to be guilty.

What’s more, as an added precaution, our contract allows for a person’s removal from the classroom and, if there is probable cause, off payroll, while that person is still under investigation. Reforms we made in the last few years also expedite the entire investigative and hearing process, preventing these cases from being dragged out for inordinate lengths of time. Independent arbitrators ensure that accused teachers get a fair hearing.

Far from being difficult and onerous, the strong measures we have put in place give the DOE extraordinary power to remove, suspend and terminate teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct. The process is solid, and it works, and it is something we can all be proud of as educators and union members who have dedicated their careers to helping children.

Earlier this month, the DOE proposed a bill that would allow it to bypass investigations and due-process hearings, and instead unilaterally terminate teachers who are simply accused of sexual misconduct, regardless of any findings or evidence to the contrary.

There is no place in our schools for sexual misconduct, and no one for a moment believes that type of behavior should be allowed. But simply being accused does not mean those allegations are true and a person is guilty, a point even the chancellor has made publicly. Each and every case is different, and they must be viewed independently, investigated independently and ruled on independently.

The safety and security of our students are of paramount concern, and we take very seriously reports of teachers who are accused of inappropriate conduct with students. We believe it is critical that allegations are investigated quickly and thoroughly to determine their merit and that appropriate actions are taken if a teacher is found guilty.

Likewise, the independent arbitrators who oversee case hearings have a vested interest in getting the facts straight and protecting children. Our teachers are indeed dedicated, hardworking professionals who deserve our praise and support. They also deserve due process.

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