On June 26, 1997, New York teacher Roland Pierre was was arrested on felony sex-abuse charges after allegedly calling one of his PS 138 sixth-grade students into an empty classroom, closed the door and molested her. Pierre was permanently removed from the classroom, but like many tenured teachers accused of wrongdoing, he wasn’t fired. Instead, he joined other disgraced educators in the so-called “rubber room” — the “purgatory of teachers yanked for the classroom for alleged wrongdoing” — where he’d wait out the union-guided appeals process.
But, as the NY Post notes, 13 years later, Pierre is still receiving full pay and fringe benefits from his old teaching job, including health benefits, pension and vacation time. In all, the 75-year-old continues to pull down $97,101 a year for a job he hasn’t done in 13 years.
According to the Post, Pierre is one of six tenured teachers that Chancellor Joel Klein has refused to let back into the classroom, even after the Department of Education refused to fire him. But of the other educators, Pierre has been “permanently reassigned” the longest of all.
The school investigator at the time had recommended Pierre’s termination after he gripped the student in a “bear hug” and “kissed her on the mouth, inserted his tongue in her mouth, fondled her chest and reached under her skirt.” In his March 1998 report, the investigator said the frightened young girl went to the administrative office and “burst into tears.” But when investigators questioned Pierre, he refused to speak, opting instead for a written statement that admitted he had met the girl behind closed doors, but denied any wrongdoing.
The Post reports that in the intervening years, the Department of Education dropped disciplinary actions against Pierre “on a technicality” but he remains in the rubber room until he is reassigned. Though he was eligible for retirement at 62, Pierre continues to collect his full teaching salary.
At his age, he’d be able to collect a full pension and is eligible to collect Social Security, making his post-retirement annual income as high as $125,000.
Another teacher accused of serious wrongdoing — including impregnating a 16-year-old student and allegedly molesting a string of other girls — finally retired this month after spending seven years in his own “rubber room”:
For seven years, math teacher Francisco Olivares, 61, did nothing but rake in his $94,154 salary.
The DOE bungled a chance to boot Olivares in 1978 after he impregnated a 16-year-old former student at IS 61 in Corona. He skirted rape charges by marrying the teen; their baby was born less than nine months later.
Still in the classroom, he was criminally charged a decade later with showing one 12-year-old girl porn, photographing her with pants down and rubbing up against another 12-year-old girl. His conviction was reversed on technicalities.
Now retired, Olivares collects a cushy pension of $62,000 a year.
In April, the United Federation of Teachers announced that New York City’s controversial “rubber rooms” would be gone by the year’s end. The city called the news a “breakthrough.”
“Starting this September, you’ll be happy to know that rubber rooms will be a thing of the past,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “To say that this is a big deal is probably an understatement.”
But as the above cases make clear, so-called “rubber rooms” are still alive and well. Earlier this month, the New York Times noted that the unions’ pledge had gone unfulfilled:
While hundreds of teachers have had their cases resolved, for many of those still waiting, the definition of “work” has turned out to be a loose one. Some are now doing basic tasks, like light filing, paper-clipping, tracking down student information on a computer or using 25-foot tape measures to determine the dimensions of entire school buildings. Others sit without work in unadorned cubicles or at out-of-the-way conference tables.
“They told me to sit in a little chair in a corner and never get up and walk around,” said Hal Lanse, a $100,000-a-year teacher from Queens who had been accused of sexual harassment. He was assigned to an administrative office on Fordham Road in the Bronx in September as part of a deal that led the city to drop the charges against him.
One day he plopped down on a couch in the hallway and began reading a novel, he said. Eventually, he dozed off. Then he was asked to “paper-clip some papers” and refused: he was charged with insubordination. He is now collecting his full salary at home in Queens, with plans to retire in January; the city is trying to fire him for insubordination before then, which would reduce his pension.
“There are indeed still rubber rooms,” he said. “They just don’t call them that.”