daily News Staff Writer
A group of city teachers filed suit Monday demanding the city shut down the so-called rubber rooms where school employees are sent to await disciplinary hearings.
The teachers filing suit are among hundreds accused of serious crimes, like having sex with students, or minor infractions, like talking back to a principal.
Some are accused of simply being ineffective teachers.
Because of agreements in their union contracts, they can't be fired or disciplined until they receive a hearing, so they collect full salaries for months or even years while doing nothing more than reporting every day to what's officially called a "temporary reassignment center."
"It's an abuse of public money," said Florian Lewenstein, who in the suit describes the rooms as "modern-day internment camps."
Lewenstein is the only plaintiff identified by name in the suit, which was filed in Manhattan Federal Court, but he said 15 teachers are members of his Teachers4Action group and that he is recruiting others.
Lewenstein says he was originally taken off duty from Middle School 217 in Briarwood, Queens, after he was accused of hitting a kid with a book bag. He denies the allegations.
The city teachers union says the suit is the first to formally challenge the rubber rooms. The suit alleges that the rooms are part of a "scheme" to discriminate against experienced teachers and "reduce salaries by forcing teachers to quit or be fired."
"We're talking about people ... with 20 years of satisfactory ratings who have been set up asincompetent or set up on corporal punishment charges. They're some of the most frivolous and ridiculous charges," Lewenstein said.
United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she's not supporting the lawsuit because she's working with the Education Department to address problems with the rubber rooms.
"I understand their frustration," Weingarten said. "Many of them believe they are innocent and believe they should be exonerated and they don't understand why they are languishing in these rooms, regardless of whether or not they're being paid."
"We are already working with the UFT in this area. There's no merit to the lawsuit," said schools spokesman David Cantor.