Rubber Rooms: NYC Teachers Paid To Do Nothing


rubber-roomHundreds of New York City teachers removed from classrooms on a wide range of allegations are sent to offices that are called “rubber rooms.”┬áMany stay there for years, waiting for determinations of their guilt or innocence.┬áBut while they wait they do nothing at all. And they’re still paid — with your tax dollars.

CBS 2 HD takes you “inside … the rubber rooms.”

CBS 2 HD’s hidden cameras recently got a rare look inside the rooms, which are located in every borough of New York City. As many as 530 teachers are paid to do nothing while the Department of Education investigates various charges against them. Many teachers say it’s a nightmare — being forced to sit in a room all day and not teach.

“The saddest thing is that there are some people doing nothing. Not even that,” teacher Leevert Holmes said.

They’re officially called “temporary reassignment centers.”

The first teachers sent there many years ago came up with the phrase “rubber rooms” sarcastically because they said they could drive you crazy.

When asked if taxpayers are paying for this Holmes said yes, even though people are being paid to literally do nothing, adding it costs the public, “millions.”

“I worked hard to be a teacher,” Grace Colon said through tears. “To be an advocate for my students.”

After 16 years as a teacher, Colon was sent to a rubber room. She was paid then, but last month was fired by the Department of Education for various charges, including the physical abuse of a student. She still denies the charge and is appealing.

Ribber rooms cost tax payers more than $53 million every year. Some teachers have been paid to do nothing for as long as seven years. When CBS 2 HD hasked the Department of Education about it they simply said the process is a long one.

Here’s how it works: a teacher shows up for class, but is handed an envelope. Inside it reads: There are allegations against you. Please go to this address. Eventually that turns out to be a rubber room like one CBS 2 HD saw on West 125th Street. But months can go by before a person finds out what the charges are against him or her, and those months can turn into years.

“I have never been, ah … received formal charges,” Holmes said.

Holmes has been teaching special ed for seven years. He was put in the rubber room over a year ago and is still waiting to find out what the charges are.

“They want to drain us emotionally, so that we will resign,” said Dr. Anna Maria Thomas, a reinstated teacher.

After 19 months of doing nothing in a rubber room, Thomas finally got charges of verbally abusing students dismissed. But she is still part of a federal suit against the city to close the rubber rooms.

“The suit says that the rubber rooms are an unconstitutional denial of due process,” lawyer Joy Hochstadt said.

CBS 2 HD and the Department of Education exchanged several emails, but the Department did not want to put anyone on camera. Instead, they released the following statement:

“This is not an ideal system but, given the realities of the cumbersome state laws and union contract, we’re in a position where we need to balance our obligation to safeguard children with our legal obligation for fairness to teachers,” said NYC Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Forte.

Of the 530 teachers in the rubber rooms many will get fired. Some will be cleared and put back into classrooms, and others will just get frustrated and quit. Still, that’s $53 million of your money that could be put to better use.

Most of the rubber room teachers are waiting to be declared guilty or innocent on charges like incompetence. By contrast, criminal cases are often handled separately — and faster — by police and the district attorney’s office.

{CBS Broadcasting/Noam Newscenter}