Ex-CNN Anchor Joins Debate vs. Unions Over Teacher Misconduct
By AL BAKER
In late July, a Twitter user began to post a flurry of messages on what happens to be one of the Bloomberg administration’s newest education campaigns.
“Teachers union must stop protecting those who commit sexual misconduct with children,” read one post on July 29.
“Unions have to be there to support great hardworking teachers. Not ones who sexually harass and endanger our kids,” said another from Aug. 3.
The posts began to draw the attention of Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, who wrote on Twitter, “Union protects against false allegations,” which elicited this comeback:
“Then how do u explain teacher asking child for striptease and not fired?”
The author of these missives was not a mayoral operative or a city education wonk. It was Campbell Brown, the 44-year-old former CNN anchor and mother of two young sons, who from her home in Lower Manhattan had begun to insert herself into an uncomfortable political fight in a conspicuous way.
The posts were just a part of it. Ms. Brown also spoke about teacher misconduct at a July 26 appearance in the Bronx before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s education reform commission and in a July 30 spot on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” She also wrote an op-ed article on the issue that was published by The Wall Street Journal.
Then Ms. Brown became the story, at least on Twitter, when Ms. Weingarten reposted a message that pointedly raised Ms. Brown’s marriage to Dan Senor, who is Mitt Romney’s senior foreign-affairs adviser and, more to the point, is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, an education policy group close with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
This escalated the fight. Ms. Brown said she took the post as sexist, though she stressed that she still desired Ms. Weingarten’s help. “Disappointing that @rweingarten thinks I hold my views b/c im married to repub. Always thought she was great role model for women until now,” she wrote.
A local union operative then called any claim that the union defends sexual predators “equivalent to a blood libel,” a term frequently used in reference to an anti-Semitic accusation dating from the Middle Ages that Jews use the blood of non-Jews in ceremonies. The Anti-Defamation League called the statement “inappropriate and over the top,” and the union official apologized.
But the public spat made it clear: Ms. Brown had transformed into the most recognizable face of the combustible school-reform fight and in so doing had injected star power into a campaign the Bloomberg administration has been waging for months.
“I don’t think it’s fair that we cannot guarantee every child in this country a great education and that, in New York City, in some cases, your child is at risk in some part because of the policies the union endorses,” Ms. Brown said in an interview. “It is impossible to not see that we have a broken system that is in need of change.”
The issue is how teachers who are accused of sexually motivated misbehavior should be handled. Teachers convicted of a sexual crime involving students automatically lose their jobs, but teachers whose alleged behavior is not considered criminal — like hugging that makes a student uncomfortable, inappropriate comments or unwanted out-of-class contact — are entitled to a hearing under state law before they can be fired.
Since July 2008, the city Education Department has brought 100 cases for “sexual misconduct” against teachers, social workers and guidance counselors. But arbitrators allowed just 26 to be fired; in many other cases, they ordered discipline ranging from reprimands to suspensions. The Bloomberg administration has been pushing to change the law to allow the schools chancellor to override arbitrators who do not fire such teachers. Teachers unions have fought the change, saying that the arbitrators — who are jointly picked by the city and the union — are the only people who can stop falsely accused teachers from losing their livelihoods.