Friday, October 13, 2017

Are New York City Public Schools Too Dangerous and Unsafe To Attend? Parents and Teachers Say Yes

Abel Cedeno, left and Matthew McCree, right
The murder of teen Mathew McCree on September 27, 2017, while he was sitting in history class at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, may be the event that spurs change at the New York City Department of Education. And yet, maybe not.

In New York City students, parents and school staff, especially teachers, have protested the lack of appropriate discipline in NYC schools for many years.  See:

Fatal Stabbing Highlights Persistent Problems at Bronx Middle School (2014)
and,
Safety Last: New York City's Public Schools Are More Dangerous Than Ever (2016)

The key findings of Safety Last are:
" Alarming Spike in Violence in City Schools: The number of violent incidents in city schools rose sharply last year, under Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina's first full year managing the Department of Education -- from 12,978 in 2013-14 to 15,934 in 2014-15, a disturbing 23 percent increase; School Violence Index at Recorded High: New York City's School Violence Index (SVI) rose by 22 percent in 2014-5, the highest level recorded. New York State uses the SVI to determine which schools are "persistently dangerous," as required by federal law. The School Violence Index is a ratio of violent incidents to enrollment in a school and is determined by the number of incidents, the seriousness of the incidents, and the school's enrollment; Data Suggests de Blasio Administration is Misleading Public: Data suggests that Mayor de Blasio's assertion that crime in city schools is down 29 percent since 2011-12, most recently invoked during his State of the City this month, is at best an incomplete picture. There were more than twice as many "assaults with physical injur[ies]" reported by city schools to the State Education Department than total number of crimes under Mayor de Blasio's calculations; Students at Grave Risk in City Schools: The alarming spike in violence in city schools makes it difficult for students to learn and leaves students in serious risk of danger and bodily harm: A violent incident occurs in district schools every 4.5 minutes; A weapon is recovered in district schools once every 28.4 minutes; Few students are protected: 93% of the city's district school students attend schools where a violent incident has occurred over the past year; In the five months since the 2015-2016 school year began, 42 weapons have been confiscated from 36 elementary schools across the city."

No one is doing anything about it, except covering it up. The case of Eileen Ghastin is a case which shows the New York City Department of Education policy of not giving violent students the appropriate help and guidance they need. The boy who told Ms. Ghastin that he was a boxer and was going to beat her up was given a short suspension and when he returned to school, he broke a window in anger. He needs help, not discipline.

I see the "all students are little angels" policy at work in 3020-a charges, where the NYC Department of Education always blames the teacher: a fight between two or more students shows a lack of classroom management; intervention by a teacher to stop a fight is corporal punishment and misconduct by the teacher; telling a student to stop hurting other students is charged as verbal abuse in 3020-a Specifications, etc.. In Eileen's case, she tried to stop the student from beating her up by telling him she was going to "kill him". She saw that she needed to do something to stop him, and believed that this was the only way. Of course she did not mean it. The arbitrator gave her a fine because he was convinced that the student was embarrassed by the media coverage of the event in the NYPOST, even though the newspaper did not name him. See:

Stellar, Dedicated Teacher Eileen Ghastin Fights the Arbitrator's Decision To Suspend Her For Four Weeks After Almost Being Beaten Up in Her Class


In 2010, two years before the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown Connecticut, I received a telephone call from an anxious parent whose children had attended the school, and she begged me to help her get services for special needs students in Newtown before somebody went "postal" and people would be harmed. I made many calls to the school board and policymakers. All requests fell into a black hole.
But we know that special education services are not being supplied properly, and the NYC Department of Education is covering this up too. See:

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues New York City Department Of Education For Discrimination And Retaliation At Pan American International High School

What the NYC DOE needs to do is hire a General Counsel who can set up an Office of Accountability and Guidance. This office will be given the responsibility of providing each event with a team to find out who did what, and how.  I suggest disbanding the Office of Special Investigations and the Office of Equal Opportunity, as wholly-owned agencies of the NYC DOE and compromised by their allegiance to the bias ingrained in the Department against holding the true culprits accountable for anything. Discipline is not always the answer. There is no set standard for what kind of suspension will "teach him/her a lesson to not harm someone" again.

Betsy Combier
betsy@advocatz.com
Editor, Advocatz
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, Parentadvocates.org
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials


In the days after Mr. McCree’s death, a memorial grew in the courtyard behind his home in the Bronx.
‘Nothing Will Ever be the Same’: A Murdered Teen’s Mother Speaks

A bright and popular 15-year-old Bronx boy was stabbed last month in one of the places he loved most — school.

New York Times, By JAN RANSOM, OCT. 12, 2017

The pint-size youngster with an oversized backpack stood on the corner of Mapes Avenue several feet from home, and for a moment contemplated crossing the street. He knew he wasn’t supposed to leave home alone, but he wanted to go to school just like his older brother though he was not old enough, his mother recounted.

Even as a baby, Matthew McCree would cry to go to school, said his mother Louna Dennis. “I’ve never met a kid who just loved school.”

That love of school never faltered. The 15-year-old was a bright and popular student at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx, said his parents, classmates and a former teacher’s assistant. Then, nearly three weeks into the start of a new school year, he was killed during history class when the police say a classmate plunged a knife into his chest and back. That student, Abel Cedeno, 18, is also accused of seriously injuring Mr. McCree’s friend, Ariane Laboy, 16, who tried to step in. Mr. Cedeno has been charged with murder.

“Nothing will ever be the same,” Ms. Dennis, 34, said through tears during an interview at her attorney’s office in Brooklyn. “Matthew was a light; he lights up everybody.”

The effervescent teenager had big dreams. Standing at 5-foot-10, 156 pounds, Mr. McCree, a junior, wanted to attend Fordham University and become a professional basketball player. If that didn’t pan out, he said he planned to join the Marines, Ms. Dennis said.

His stepfather, Kyle Victor Sr., 36, said he taught Mr. McCree how to play basketball. He was a fast learner, said Mr. Victor, who raised him since he was 6. The teenager played basketball with friends at Crotona Park and in the courtyard behind his building. His school did not have a basketball team.

Mr. McCree grew up in a two-bedroom apartment at Mapes Court, two six-story brick buildings a half a mile from the Bronx Zoo.

He lived with his mother; brother, Kevon Dennis, 17; and his sister, Kayla Dennis, 4. His stepbrother, Kyle Victor Jr., 10, was always eager to visit on weekends. The family had a cat named Elmo, and a Maltese named Baby.

Mr. McCree shared a small room with his older brother, which after his death bore little sign of him. Ms. Dennis said she and her older son disposed of most of his belongings because they reminded them that Matthew was gone. All that remained was an unfinished mural that read: “Money Matt” and “You’ll Live Forever.”

“He had the most annoying laugh ever,” Mr. Dennis said with a slight smile in the courtyard. Mr. Dennis, who attended Wildlife for middle school and then left for a different high school, sat near a growing memorial of blue and white candles, enlarged photos of his brother, a basketball and countless hand-scrawled messages, including one that read: “No student should be scared to walk the halls.”

Ms. Dennis said Wildlife had a better reputation when her eldest son attended. The principal was active, accessible and frequently accompanied students on school trips. The school also had a program in which staff walked students home, creating a bond, but the program ended.

Last year, on an annual survey, just 55 percent of the students at the school reported they felt safe there, and only 19 percent of teachers said they would recommend the school.

“Nobody had the kids under control,” Mr. Dennis said. “Every day the cops were outside. It just got bad.”

The school administration and the education department declined to comment.

Mr. Cedeno told police that his peers had been bullying him about his perceived sexual orientation, though Mr. McCree and Mr. Laboy had never been in contact with him before that day. Police said Mr. Cedeno began carrying a knife to school.

A grand jury is hearing from witnesses about the stabbing on Sept. 27, according to the district attorney’s office and Sanford Rubenstein, Ms. Dennis’ attorney. Mr. Rubenstein said the family will not take legal action until after Mr. McCree’s funeral. A wake for Mr. McCree will be on Friday evening at the Castle Hill Funeral Parlor in the Bronx. His funeral is at 7 a.m. on Saturday. He will be buried in Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Ms. Dennis and Mr. McCree’s friends said he never mentioned Mr. Cedeno. Relatives and classmates said that Mr. McCree was not a bully.

Mr. McCree’s neighbor, Doreen Jimenez, 33, whom he called his “Spanish mom,” said that she has been married to a woman for three years and that the teenager never judged her. She said Mr. McCree was often at her house for dinner, or hanging out with her three daughters who were close friends of his.

A longtime friend of Mr. McCree’s, Hensehk Bernardez, 16, who transferred out of Wildlife in the ninth grade, said Mr. Cedeno “was a socially awkward kid,” and that “Matthew would never bully a gay person; he knew better than that.”

The mother of a New York City public school student, a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit, spoke about her son’s mistreatment outside the Education Department’s headquarters on Thursday.
New York Education Dept. Is Sued Over Violence in Schools
New York Times, 
A group of public school families and a pro-charter advocacy group filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court this week alleging that the atmosphere at New York City public schools was depriving students of their right to receive an education free of violence, bullying and harassment.

The class-action suit, filed on Wednesday in New York’s Eastern District against the New York City Education Department and its chancellor, Carmen FariƱa, claims that violence in schools is increasing, and that it is often underreported. The suit also says that school violence disproportionately affects certain groups of students, like those who are black, Hispanic, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The suit, which claims the Education Department has failed “to address and remediate in-school violence in New York City’s public schools,” was filed by 11 students and their families. They were joined by Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group that has been a fierce and frequent critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education policies.

The group’s chief executive, Jeremiah Kittredge, held a news conference on Thursday morning in front of the Education Department’s headquarters in Manhattan, to encourage other public school parents to join the suit.

The group’s picture of violence in the city’s schools directly counters Mr. de Blasio’s. In a statement, the mayor said he viewed “each incidence as obviously troubling,” but challenged the group’s facts, saying that “this year to date, the major crime in our schools is down 14.29 percent and other crimes down 6.77 percent.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ESSA and NY State's "Next Generation Learning Standards" Plan


I think Susan Ochshorn says it all in the previous post.

The new curriculum for New York, "Next Generation", seems to be just as nonsensical as it's predecessor "Common Core".

Have teachers been sufficiently trained in the new curriculum to implement all it's parts successfully? I don't think so.

Once again, New York is giving teachers no chance to escape the dreaded "Ineffective" rating, and giving parents and the youngest children entering the school system a lifetime of heartache.

Why can't New York State Education Department policy makers set up a well-planned strategy based upon valid research into the unique ways children learn, instead of buying the next set of books handed to them by a political ally.

This makes no sense.

Betsy Combier
betsy.combier@gmail.com
President and Founder, ADVOCATZ

3 Ways Your Child's School Might Be Affected by State's New Education PlanBy Amy Zimmer | September 12, 2017 12:03pm


MANHATTAN — When it comes to testing and how your kids and their schools are evaluated, changes are underway, as the state on Monday passed a new plan under the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act.
The plan aims to boost equity in education by expanding measures for student success, New York State Education Department officials said.
It requires new kinds of improvement plans for the lowest performing schools and strategies to support educators’ professional growth, according to officials. It focuses on a culturally responsive education that supports the academic needs and social-emotional development of all students, including English language learners, immigrant students and homeless youth.
ESSA was originally created under President Obama's administration to replace the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, and it gives more power to states to decide how to evaluate schools and help those that are struggling.
“Developing this plan has been an opportunity to incorporate the voices of communities, teachers and parents as we rethink how we look at accountability, equity and serving the whole child,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said.
The agenda will be supported by the $1.6 billion that New York receives each year from the federal government in ESSA funding, and the state expects to revise how it uses federal funding, especially as new reporting on per student funding becomes available, the plan noted.
The state will send its plan to Washington, DC, on Sept. 18 for review and expects it to be approved in early 2019, officials said.
Here are some ways it could impact city schools:
1. Goodbye "Common Core." Hello "Next Generation Learning Standards."
New York no longer refers to the “Common Core” when it comes to the state’s learning standards. The new approach is branded "Next Generation Learning Standards."
The state is considering working with educators to develop new measures of student learning, including designing capstone, project-based assessments in areas like "science or civic and cultural awareness and civic readiness," where students might have to do a research project and defend a thesis either in writing or orally, the plan said.
2. Changes to testing and evaluation for students with special needs and English Language Learners.
Besides eliminating a day of testing for both the state’s math and English exams, the state is seeking a waiver from the federal government for students with certain special needs to take exams for lower grade levels.
The state is also seeking a waiver for schools with newly arrived English Language Learners to delay their evaluations on those students’ English proficiency from two years after arriving to four years.
On last year’s English tests, only 4.4 percent of English Language Learners passed the exam and 9.3 percent of students with special needs passed. For math, 11.3 percent of students with special needs passed, while 14.7 percent of ELLs passed.
State tests, however, aren’t going away, and some worry that the changes might water down high expectations for students, while others say the changes still don’t go far enough in their over-reliance using test scores to evaluate schools.
Education activist and public school parent Kemala Karmen, who is with the grassroots NYC Opt Out group, had a seat at the table on the plan’s creation through serving on the Standards and Assessments work group of the state’s ESSA “Think Tank.”
But Karmen — whose child went to Carroll Gardens' Brooklyn New School, the city's epicenter of opting out — felt that many concerns of parents of how testing was reshaping what goes on in classrooms were not heeded when it came to testing overall.
“There was the possibility of the state to come up with something innovative and different — not radically different, but substantially different — from No Child Left Behind,” Karmen said. “New York just blew it.”
For instance, she said that she had consulted with ELL teachers, who said it takes five to seven years for language acquisition, so the four years wasn’t long enough.
Meanwhile the Education Trust-New York, an education and civil rights group, had concerns about whether the plan ensured that schools were meeting expectations for all students.
“It will be critical to continue building on and strengthening that framework to ensure transparency for parents, maintain high expectations for all groups of students and address underperforming schools with urgency and support,” Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York said in a  statement.
3. Schools will have “data dashboards” for parents and others to see how — and why — they perform in certain ways.
To provide more transparency on schools, the state wants them to have “data dashboards” that would include more than just state test scores.
The new plan also focuses a lot on chronic absenteeism, noting that students who have missed more than 18 days, or 10 percent of the school year, have much lower rates of academic success.
In striving to address equity issues, the state hopes to include out-of-school suspension rates, along with other school measures like access to art and technology classes, access to highly effective teachers and students’ physical health and well-being.
The state will also regularly publish data on school climate, teacher turnover rates, parent involvement, class size and per student funding.
The goal of looking at the various measures, according to the plan, is to use these indicators to diagnose school needs and better track progress.

Susan Ochshorn: The "Next Generation" Standards For ELA and Math Harm Young Children


Photo credit: Bianca Tanis

The new curriculum for New York, "Next Generation", seems to be just as nonsensical as it's predecessor "Common Core".

Have teachers been sufficiently trained in the new curriculum to implement all it's parts successfully? I don't think so.

Once again, New York is giving teachers no chance to escape the dreaded "Ineffective" rating, and giving parents and the youngest children entering the school system a lifetime of heartache.

This makes no sense.

Betsy Combier
betsy.combier@gmail.com
President and Founder, ADVOCATZ
NEW YORK’S YOUNG CHILDREN ARE THROWN UNDER THE BUS
On September 11th, the education committee of the New York Board of Regents approved the “Next Generation” standards for English Language Arts and mathematics.
Our youngest children have been thrown under the bus.
We are violating everything that is known, which is considerable, about how children develop and learn best.  We are stealing their childhood, robbing them of play, the primary engine of human development.
We have empirical evidence that kindergarten has become the new first grade, and preschool the new kindergarten.  Across the country, and in New York, we have relegated play to an hour a day or less for five-year-olds, and a growing number of four-year-olds. One three-year-old  I know recently brought home work sheets from her early childhood program.
Children are being assessed at younger and younger ages. We’re condemning them to the tread mill before they can even lace up their running shoes.
This is decidedly not how young children thrive.  They learn through play, exploration, inquiry, and movement.  It’s absurd to expect them to sit quietly, to passively receive information and regurgitate it back.  We talk endlessly about producing critical thinkers, innovators, but we’re eliminating the kind of teaching and learning that nurtures them.
With New York’s Pre-K through 2nd grade standards, early childhood teachers are under massive pressure to get children to meet the benchmarks.  Growing numbers are convinced that they’re committing malpractice, that they’re actually doing harm.  Many have used the term child abuse.
In measuring young children by these standards, we deny their uniqueness, ignoring their strengths and vulnerabilities.  We deny their human right to a rich, joyful educational experience.
New York policymakers are deluded in thinking that their efforts can close achievement gaps.  Nor will they move us closer to eradicating inequity and inequality.  Socioeconomic status has been proven to be one of the most significant factors in academic achievement.  Of the 4.6 million children living in New York, a staggering 42 percent live in low-income families. Eleven percent of children under the age of six live in extreme poverty, where they’re severely deprived of basic human needs.
Toxic stress is rampant among these children, their cortisol levels soaring.  This powerful neurophysiological process, akin to  a 24/7 adrenaline rush, affects, among other things, the ability to focus and plan—executive functions that are critical to school readiness and academic performance.  By preserving the Common Core—the attempt to rebrand has not changed its essence—we are condemning children to failure at a very early age, and turning them off to school.
Chancellor Betty Rosa and her colleagues on the Board of Regents have been given an opportunity to act in the best interests of the child.  And they’ve squandered it.
Their moral compass is terribly out of whack.
Susan Ochshorn


In Squandering America's Future - Why ECE Policy Matters for Equality, Our Economy, and Our Children, Susan Ochshorn offers a pioneering guide to the big issues in contemporary early childhood policy. Written in a lively, personal style, the book drives home the importance of the earliest years for developing human capital—the nation's future.


Friday, March 17, 2017

NYC Mayor Cunningly Sidestepped Election Laws So That He Could Break Them

Bill de Blasio

De Blasio Proves That Some Laws Are Made to Be Unbreakable

Among the gold medals awarded to Bill de Blasio on Thursday was one for limbo-dancing his way past election laws so he and his allies could funnel money into 2014 state legislative campaigns at a rate 10 times the supposed limit.
Money was not given directly to candidates, but to party committees, which can receive bigger piles of cash. Those committees could then legally transfer the inflated donations to candidates.
It makes a sham of the limits, but Mr. de Blasio did not invent these evasive moves. In just about every single competitive legislative race in this century someone, Republican or Democrat, has used precisely the same contortions. Perhaps because the mayor has a talent for annoying people — he would say, the right people — the state Board of Elections sicced the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. on him a year ago.
On Thursday, the prosecutor said the de Blasio operation “enabled an unprecedented amount of money to flow” to individual campaigns, but did so without violating the limits on contributions.
This comes down, then, not to behavior, but to scale. That is why the gold medal goes to the de Blasio team, which was up against a field of strong contenders that included Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and the state committees of both the Republican and Democratic parties. All of them engaged in versions of the de Blasio team’s tactic of washing big pots of money through state or county party committees in support of individual candidates.
Mr. Vance, in a letter to the Board of Elections, suggested that the de Blasio team’s activities contradicted the “spirit and intent” of the campaign laws.
For this to be true, one would have to believe that the legislature really intended there to be actual limits on how much money could be given to candidates. Mr. Vance is correct that the legislature created limits, but it simultaneously built ways around them; its “spirit and intent” is like the public piety of a Mafia hitman who makes the sign of the cross when passing a church on his way to work.
Money washed through a county committee is not subject to the limits, thanks to an exception in Article 12-124 of the state election law. Other exceptions have made it possible for the real estate industry to own an entire chamber of the state legislature, lock, stock and gavel.
Limited liability companies, or L.L.C.s, are essentially paper companies used as proxies to let big companies get around limits by channeling money through them. Common Cause New York, the good government group, has reported that tens of millions have been funneled to the state Republicans through L.L.C.s since 1996, when the Board of Elections ruled that an L.L.C. was no different under the law than a person. Consider this testimony from an executive at a major real estate company, Glenwood, during the 2015 federal corruption trial of Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the state senate.
Q. Since you’ve been at Glenwood, how much money have the L.L.C.s donated in contributions?
A. In total?
Q. In total, approximately.
A. Ten million.
In another context, Alan Vinegrad, a former federal prosecutor, once said, “‘Everybody does it’ is not a defense.’ It’s a confession.”
Mr. de Blasio received news Thursday morning that he and his allies would not be prosecuted by Mr. Vance’s office or by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which was investigating a separate matter, the legality of favors done by Mr. de Blasio for people who made contributions to a nonprofit run by his associates.
Prosecutors carry the responsibility to enforce laws. They are not in charge of good and evil. Nor are they civic hygienists. Nevertheless, Mr. Vance made the useful suggestion that the Board of Elections could issue guidance on the tricks used by Team de Blasio — and prominent others, unnamed by Mr. Vance.
Certain practices deserve our attention not because they are against the law, but precisely because they are legal. Moments after the prosecutors’ announcements, Brian Lehrer of WNYC radio spoke to the mayor on the air.
“Were you looking to get money to the hands of those candidates through the state committees and understanding the spirit of the law but trying to just stay within the letter of the law – not caring about the spirit of the law?” Mr. Lehrer asked.
Brian, respectfully, I think that’s an outrageous question,” Mr. de Blasio replied.

Mr. de Blasio loves saddling up on the highest horse he can find. It can be a long way down.

No Charges, but Harsh Criticism for de Blasio’s Fund-Raising

Saturday, January 14, 2017

New York State May Be Sued For Voting Violations by the United States Department of Justice

re-posted from the New York Times and Parentadvocates.org:



      

U.S. Threatens to Sue New York State Over Voting Violations

The Justice Department has notified New York State officials that it may sue the state over what it says are widespread failures to comply with a provision of federal voter registration law that requires state drivers’ license applications to double as applications for voter registration, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.

In the letter, dated Jan. 6, the Justice Department lays out how the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles violates the law. The lapses “deprive numerous New Yorkers of important voter registration opportunities required under federal law,” according to the letter, which was signed by Vanita Gupta, the head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department.

At D.M.V. offices throughout the state, a Justice Department investigation found, drivers’ license applications do not also serve as voter registration forms unless applicants request it, and the option is sometimes closed even to those who make a request.

The letter said that even among D.M.V. offices that allow voter registration, some do not pass registration forms to election officials in the time required by law. That finding echoes those described by the office of the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, in a report on voting issues surrounding the 2016 presidential primary.

Applications to renew drivers’ licenses online are also supposed to automatically serve as voter registration applications, the letter said, but they do not. When drivers submit a change of address to the D.M.V. online, that notification is also required to function as a change of address submission for voter registration, but in New York, the letter said, it does not.

The D.M.V. offers online voter registration separately from its other applications, but that is “no substitute” for combining the voter registration and drivers’ license application processes, the letter said.

Though Ms. Gupta has authorized a lawsuit, the state and the Justice Department could resolve the issue before it reaches a courtroom. The letter said the Justice Department will delay filing a complaint while it discusses the matter with state officials. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on Friday.

Joe Morrissey, a spokesman for the D.M.V., said: “State laws and policies clearly require auto-combining of drivers’ license applications and voter registration applications. D.M.V. looks forward to speaking with D.O.J. to determine what, if any, concerns exist.”

The letter to the D.M.V. arrived a few days before the Justice Department asked to join a lawsuit over what it said were dysfunctional registration procedures at the New York City Board of Elections, which has been accused of mistakenly dropping more than 117,000 eligible Brooklyn voters from the registration rolls before the 2016 primary.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a series of proposals that he said would reform how New Yorkers vote, including instituting early voting along with automatic and same-day registration. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

With Norman Seabrook's Arrest, What Happens To Riker's Island Reform?


Norman Seabrook after he was arraigned on corruption charges on Wednesday in
Manhattan.

Norman Seabrook’s Ouster as Union Chief May Complicate Overhaul at Rikers


LINK


In his two decades as leader of the nation’s largest municipal correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook managed to consolidate near-total control, his authority on the cellblocks of Rikers Island often eclipsing that of commissioners and mayors.


But with his arrest this week on corruption charges, it would appear that Mr. Seabrook’s reign is on the verge of collapse. On Thursday, he was ousted as union president and replaced for now by his second in command.


The biggest question is how this affects the efforts underway to reform the Rikers jail complex. The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has invested enormous political capital and hundreds of millions of dollars to remake New York City’s jails and to end the violence and corruption that has long plagued them.


Mr. Seabrook has been a fierce opponent of many of the changes being put in place at Rikers, particularly the scaling back of solitary confinement, which will soon be eliminated for all inmates under age 22.


But as the lone voice for the city’s 9,000 correction officers, his willingness to cooperate with at least some of the reform efforts was important. He was a strongman, but one who gave voice and coherence to a group of workers split among more than a dozen facilities and three shifts.


Among the rank-and-file, Mr. Seabrook commanded tremendous loyalty. Unlike the department officials and the commissioners who came and went, he was one of them, a correction officer born in the Bronx and raised poor as one of eight children. He was also a black man leading a heavily black union, sensitive to racial issues on the job and in the community.


At graduation ceremonies, new recruits would watch the droning speeches of officials with barely disguised boredom. When Mr. Seabrook took the stage — often to disparage those previous speakers to their faces — they were on their feet.


In those ways, his absence could pose headaches to reformers.


No matter how ambitious the reform agenda of Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, may be, it can go nowhere without the support of the men and women who work the cellblocks.


With Mr. Seabrook gone, the question is, Who will speak for them now?


During his tenure as president, Mr. Seabrook quashed any potential challengers and never groomed a strong successor. His 14-member executive board is considered weak, commanding none of the loyalty among members that he has long enjoyed.


“Norman is a tyrant,” said William Valentin, who spent five years on the executive board and was kicked out by Mr. Seabrook in August 2015. “The executive board is pretty much under his control. They really don’t argue with him too much. Whatever he says goes.”


Understanding Mr. Seabrook’s outsized importance on the cellblocks requires understanding the history of the city’s Correction Department. By the end of the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican turned political independent, there was a real power vacuum in the department. It was considered a low priority, and the commissioner at the time, Dora B. Schriro, was a weak leader.


Mr. Seabrook stepped into that void, his power perhaps reaching its apex in fall 2013, when he almost single-handedly shut down the city court system by directing his members in a work stoppage that halted almost all of the buses that ferry inmates to and from court.


A judge complained that the court system had been “held hostage,” and Mr. Bloomberg sued the union. But Mr. Seabrook emerged unscathed.


Even after Mr. de Blasio took office in 2014 and appointed the reform-minded Joseph Ponte as correction commissioner, Mr. Seabrook continued to behave as if he were in charge of Rikers. He called a news conference in which he derided Mr. Ponte as a “hug a thug” yokel from Maine who was out of his league.


Mr. de Blasio seemed to go out of his way early on in his administration to try to cultivate the union leader. During the height of the Ebola crisis in late 2014, for example, the mayor took a break from emergency preparations to attend a charity dinner hosted by Mr. Seabrook at a Bronx ballroom. In a speech, Mr. de Blasio described him as “a friend” and “a great leader in this town.”


But the landscape was changing. News organizations and city investigators were exposing a culture of pervasive brutality in the jails. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office filed charges against Mr. Seabrook on Wednesday, eventually joined a class-action lawsuit that led to intervention by a federal monitor. And the new mayor took an aggressive stance, vowing to remake Rikers.


Faced with constant obstruction by Mr. Seabrook, who often told his members that Rikers was “our house,” the administration sought ways to circumvent him. Perhaps the most important sign that the balance of power had shifted was a decision by Mr. Ponte to exclude Mr. Seabrook from a behind-the-scenes deal to significantly cut back on the use of solitary confinement. Mr. Seabrook stood at a public meeting and harshly criticized the administration, but the deal to end isolation for all inmates under 22 was done.


Mr. Seabrook continued to bluster publicly about the changes, once showing up outside City Hall with a coffin, meant to represent the dangers facing jail officers. But he also worked with the administration to improve training and to raise hiring standards.


Speaking about Mr. Seabrook’s arrest, Mr. de Blasio described his relationship with the union leader as “fraught.”


“Sometimes he was willing to work with us,” the mayor said. “Sometimes he wasn’t.”


Now there is great uncertainty about what comes next for the union.


Mr. Seabrook is set to run unopposed in unionwide elections this summer. Ballots have already been distributed to the membership, and for now, the plan is to let the election continue as scheduled, according to a union official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to discuss internal union business publicly.


If there are no challenges, the official said, the role of president will be fulfilled for the foreseeable future by Elias Husamudeen, Mr. Seabrook’s trusted second in command.
From Elias Husamudeen – President of COBA:
"We are saddened and concerned by these allegations, but would point out that Mr. Seabrook is innocent of these charges until proven otherwise and we look forward to him having his day in court. But let’s be clear, the current leadership of COBA will remain focused on protecting the women and men in uniform who risk their lives working in our jails every day. Our officers face an increase in gang violence, an increase in encounters with the mentally ill that they are inadequately trained for, and an increase in overtime that is pushing them to the brink. These issues are too important to allow for distractions."
Norman Seabrook at his office
At Rikers Island, Union Chief’s Clout Is a Roadblock to Reform
Riker's Island Jail Complex

LINK
With brutality by guards at the Rikers Island jail complex rising at an alarming rate, the chief investigator for the New York City Correction Department stood before a roomful of senior officers and union leaders in the summer of 2012 and outlined her plans to crack down on abuse and send more cases to prosecutors.
Riker's Jail
The presentation infuriated one man in particular, Norman Seabrook, the powerful president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, who believed the incidents should be handled internally. For the next two years he did everything in his power to get rid of the investigator, Florence Finkle. He helped scuttle some of her investigations, got one of her top people transferred, called for her resignation and denounced her on his weekly radio show.


In August, he finally got his wish: Ms. Finkle was forced out, replaced by a former senior Police Department official — a childhood friend of Mr. Seabrook’s.


Over his two decades as president of the union, Mr. Seabrook has come to exert extraordinary control over the Correction Department, consulting with commissioners on key appointments, forging alliances with high-ranking uniformed correction leaders and, more recently, speaking regularly with Mayor Bill de Blasio about department policy. His influence has paid enormous dividends for his members, but it has also fed a culture of violence and corruption at Rikers, an investigation by The New York Times found.


The investigation involved scores of interviews, with former correction commissioners, former senior City Hall aides, and current and former department officials, and reviews of internal emails and other documents, as well as several lengthy interviews with Mr. Seabrook himself. What emerged was a portrait of a labor leader who wields remarkable power through a combination of political savvy and intimidation.


“I came to think that my wardens believed Norman was more important to their career than I was,” said Martin F. Horn, who served as commissioner from 2003 to 2009.


Mr. Seabrook’s power has cut two ways.


Under his leadership, correction officers, long overlooked among the city’s uniformed services, have seen large gains in salary and pension benefits, reaching parity with firefighters and police officers. Like Mr. Seabrook, the overwhelming majority of his members are black. They have risen to dominate the top ranks of the department, making it far more diverse than the Police and Fire Departments, where most of the leadership is white.


But current and former city officials repeatedly described Mr. Seabrook as the biggest obstacle to efforts to curb brutality and malfeasance at Rikers. He has vigorously resisted stiffer penalties for the use of excessive force by guards and has fought stronger screening measures designed to stop correction officers from smuggling weapons and drugs into the jails. Time and again, Mr. Seabrook has shielded his members from serious punishment when investigators like Ms. Finkle have tried to go after them.


Last year, when prosecutors charged 10 officers in a beating that fractured an inmate’s nose and eye sockets, Mr. Seabrook vigorously defended them.


“Here we have correction officers paraded into court for merely defending themselves,” he said. “The officers did everything that they were supposed to do.”


Much of Mr. Seabrook’s influence within the department comes from a fear of what he might do to those who cross him. The Times spoke with about a dozen current and former senior city officials, both inside and outside the department, who have dealt with him regularly over the years and were privately critical of him. But almost no one would be quoted discussing Mr. Seabrook, citing concerns that he could sabotage their careers. Some also expressed fears about their safety while visiting Rikers, worrying that a correction officer might look the other way if an inmate suddenly got violent.


“He’s a bully,” said Daniel Dromm, a city councilman who has openly clashed with Mr. Seabrook on several occasions. “They’re afraid of him.”


3 New York City Correction Officials to Step Down Amid Scrutiny of Rikers


In a major shake-up at the New York City Correction Department, three high-ranking officials, including the top uniformed officer, are stepping down amid mounting criticism over the handling of violence and corruption at Rikers Island.


The chief of department, William Clemons, and two deputies — Joandrea Davis, the bureau chief of administration, and Gregory McLaughlin, the bureau chief of facility operations — are departing, correction officials said. The surprise departures came just five months after all three were appointed to their current posts by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte.


A department spokesman said the changes were the result of “a restructuring” by Mr. Ponte in an effort to halt brutality on the most violent cellblocks.


The department has been under intense pressure from lawmakers and federal and city investigators to address systemic brutality and corruption at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail complex. The United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which in August released a damning report detailing abuse of adolescent inmates at Rikers, has threatened to sue the city if changes are not made.


The highest-ranking official in the group, Mr. Clemons, is a 29-year veteran of the department. But he has been under scrutiny since an investigation by The New York Times in September uncovered details from an internal Correction Department audit that found he had “abdicated all responsibility” in his duties as warden of a juvenile facility at Rikers in 2011, where hundreds of inmate fights had been omitted from official statistics. The audit recommended that he be demoted.


Instead, he was promoted several times. And The Times found that large sections of the audit, including the recommendation for demotion and the sharpest criticism, were removed from the report by the previous commissioner, Dora B. Schriro.


Mr. Ponte has said he did not see the unedited version of the report before appointing Mr. Clemons chief of department in May. The commissioner promoted him over the objections of the city’s Department of Investigation, The Times found.


In a statement released on Tuesday morning, Mr. Ponte wrote that Mr. Clemons had “proved himself an able leader” and “was a model of stability in a tumultuous time.” Mr. Ponte said he would appoint a new chief by Dec. 1.


Ms. Davis, who joined the department in 1988, is Mr. Clemons’s sister-in-law. She served as warden of three of the 10 jails at Rikers, including the women’s detention center, before moving to administrative positions. Reached by telephone, she declined to comment.


Mr. McLaughlin has been with the department for 27 years and has held several posts. He was warden of the Robert N. Davoren Center, an adolescent jail at Rikers, during a period of extreme violence, and was removed from that command in 2008 shortly after Christopher Robinson, an 18-year-old inmate, was beaten to death by fellow inmates. Mr. McLaughlin could not be reached for comment.


Ms. Davis, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Clemons were promoted to their positions shortly after Mr. Ponte’s arrival in April. Ms. Davis will leave her position on Nov. 1, while Mr. Clemons and Mr. McLaughlin are to step down on Dec. 1.


In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Ponte said that he was now reorganizing the department to improve oversight of the most violent jails at Rikers. This includes getting high-ranking officers out from behind their desks and onto the cellblocks for the majority of their workweek.


He has also designated a civilian, James E. Dzurenda, the former commissioner of Connecticut’s state prisons, to oversee the top ranking chiefs. The change represents a shifting of authority from the traditionally dominant uniformed staff.


The de Blasio administration has also been looking for ways to bring in new leaders, announcing in September that it was seeking to change civil service laws to allow the hiring of high-ranking correction officers from outside the department.


Under the reorganization, Mr. Ponte said he eliminated several top uniformed positions, including those of Ms. Davis and Mr. McLaughlin, prompting them to leave.


“We want to kind of take a look from the ground up with new eyes in these positions,” he said.


Asked whether Mr. Clemons was pressured to step down, Mr. Ponte said it was the chief’s “personal decision.”


Earlier this month, at a City Council hearing about violence at Rikers, Mr. Ponte praised Mr. Clemons for a “long history of doing good work in the agency.”


Lawmakers were not so kind.


Citing The Times’s investigation, the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, criticized Mr. Ponte for failing to fire Mr. Clemons, calling the department chief “clearly incompetent.”


In a joint statement released on Tuesday, Ms. Mark-Viverito and Elizabeth Crowley, a council member and the chairwoman of the committee overseeing Rikers, urged Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Ponte to seek out new leadership.


“For too long, the Department of Correction has been rife with the mismanagement and mistreatment of inmates, and the Council’s oversight has only served to further shed light on the deep-seated issues plaguing the D.O.C.,” the statement said.


In the face of the harsh criticism directed at Mr. Clemons, some of his strongest support came from the powerful correction officers’ union and its president, Norman Seabrook. After the Council hearing, Mr. Seabrook’s deputy, Elias Husamudeen, wrote on the union’s website: “I feel like this Council is calling for the head of Chief Clemons.” But on Tuesday, union officials declined to comment on Mr. Clemons’s departure.


Mr. Clemons has largely kept a low profile since the Times report. He did not attend the recent Council hearing, prompting Councilwoman Crowley to say that he “did not have the backbone to appear.”


On Monday, Mr. Clemons arrived at the commissioner’s office at 7 a.m., before the regular staff meeting, Mr. Ponte said.


Mr. Ponte recalled, “He came in and said: ‘I decided to put in my papers; I’m going to retire. I think it’s time.’ ”