Teachers play hooky in latest PR setback in New York

Liz Goodwin

A New York teacher's aide was recently busted for faking her own mother's funeral in order to score extra time off from work, reports the New York Post.

Supervisors became suspicious when Dawn Singletary produced a flier for her mom's funeral that misspelled the name of the purported place of interment, St. Mary Cemetery, as "cemetary."  That's a bad enough lapse for a professional educator — but Singletary's number was truly up when she was seen bowling with her very-much-alive mom in the Bronx. Singletary was dismissed shortly thereafter, and didn't contest the action. "There's nothing to defend because what I did was my fault," Singletary told The Post when asked about the incident. "The only person that got bit in the butt was me."

Probes by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation busted more than 13 New York educators and staff like Singletary over the past two years for faking sick days in order to take vacation. According to the report, two newlywed teachers faked illnesses in order to take a honeymoon. In another incident cited in the report, a school cook who also feigned sickness went on a cruise and posted telltale photos of the vacation on Facebook. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a good roundup of educators across the country who got in hot water over Facebook posts.) The 13 offenders either paid hefty fines or were fired, the New York Daily News reported.

This latest report just compounds a recent  string of bad PR for New York teachers in local and national media. Earlier this month, the Post reported that a first-year Brooklyn teacher threw herself down the stairs in order to avoid a performance review. Ilene Feldman denied that she faked the fall, but quickly resigned after confronted with the report. Here's video of the fall:

Feldman had received a bad performance review and was set to be observed by a supervisor for a second review. In New York, teachers can be fired for a bad performance review in their first three years on the job before they gain tenure.

And critical coverage of the city's "rubber room" — where teachers accused of wrongdoing were sent, doing no work but drawing full salaries while awaiting a lengthy disciplinary process — led City Hall and the city teachers union to agree to shut the facility down in April. Now the teachers will be assigned administrative work while they await hearings.

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When announcing the "rubber room" closure, Mayor Mike Bloomberg acknowledged that the image of city teachers had suffered.

"Given the amount of press that this subject has gotten, to say that this is a big deal is probably an understatement," Bloomberg said at a news conference, according to the New York Times. "This was an absurd and expensive abuse of tenure. We've been able to solve what was one of the most divisive issues in our school system."

But Diane Ravitch, an education historian who strongly opposes the Obama administration's test-score-based approach to education reform, says that these reports are unfair and part of a larger "attack" on teachers and teachers unions in New York and across the nation.

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"New York City has 1.1 million children in its public schools, and about 80,000 or so teachers. The article identifies 13 out of 80,000 or so teachers who used sick days for vacation time. Why does this get turned into an indictment of all teachers?" she wrote in an e-mail.

"The ongoing attacks will serve only to demoralize them, drive out good teachers and hurt kids," she added.

Spokespeople with the New York Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers have not returned requests for comment.

(Photo: Getty Images.)