By Susan Edelman | July 28, 2018 |
The allegations were alarming: Brooklyn teacher Bamayangay Massaquoi leaned into a student and whispered in her ear, “You are very beautiful and pretty.” He asked whether she had had sex with a classmate. He offered to buy her food, and twice offered money, warning her not to tell anyone.
Massaquoi, 56, also stared at the girl, and once touched the zipper on her sweatshirt, making her feel uncomfortable.
Despite a finding by the city’s Special Commissioner of Investigation that Massaquoi, at the Brooklyn West Alternative Learning Center, engaged in “inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature,” the Department of Education did not take the tenured teacher to trial so as to have him fired.
In a settlement, Massaquoi, who had refused to speak with investigators, agreed to pay a $13,000 fine and take a course on “teacher-student boundaries.” Yanked from the classroom for more than a year, he still collects his $102,009 salary. He could not be reached for comment.
“If he was in any other job working with children, he would be fired,” said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, which has filed a lawsuit in Staten Island Supreme Court seeking to reform the teacher disciplinary system.
While state law affords due process to tenured educators, Davids blames the city for doing too little to get rid of those deemed dangerous.
“The mayor and DOE continue to put the interests of adults before the safety of our children,” she said.
The Massaquoi case exemplifies the de Blasio administration’s lagging willingness or ability to fire teachers and administrators charged with incompetence or wrongdoing.
According to the state Department of Education, the DOE terminated just 22 of 330 educators brought up on charges in the fiscal year from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018 — less than 7 percent.
That’s the lowest it has been since de Blasio took office. The percentages have steadily declined under his administration since 2012-13, Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s last school year, when 56 of 443 charged got the ax — or 13 percent.
Also shrinking: the number of cases brought to termination trials and the number of cases the DOE actually wins.
State-paid hearing officers — who decide whether tenured employees should be fired — issued 95 decisions in DOE cases in 2017-18, the lowest number since 136 in 2012-13, state data show.
Last year, the DOE won terminations in 22 — or 23 percent — of those cases. In 2012-13, Bloomberg’s DOE won terminations in 41 percent.
In the other 2017-18 trials, hearing officers imposed fines or suspensions on 42 educators, letting them keep their jobs, and totally exonerated 19.
“Either the charges are false on their face and not fully investigated, or the DOE can’t strongly prosecute the cases it brings,” said Betsy Combier, a paralegal who defends teachers.
Among educators the DOE failed to fire was Jonathan Alejandro, a teacher at PS 70 in The Bronx, who allegedly “smacked” students on their back or necks, and pinched students.
Alejandro admitted he called students “Joe Neckbone” and “knucklehead,” and occasionally “grabbed” or “lifted” kids, but insisted he had only “tapped” or “patted” the kids.
Hearing officer John Woods Jr. suspended him for six months and required him to get “classroom management and sensitivity” training.
Last year, at least 130 accused educators, like Massaquoi, settled with the DOE. The agency said some quit, but did not give a breakdown, saying “dozens” of cases are still ongoing.
“We continue to pursue all misconduct and incompetence cases, and seek appropriate discipline based on the facts of each case,” said spokesman Douglas Cohen.