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Bill targets teachers accused of misconduct

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed a state proposal Tuesday that would give the city the final say over the fate of teachers accused of sexually abusing students, but the teachers' union said the plan is too authoritarian.

Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced their support Tuesday for a bill that would change the way instructors accused of sexual misconduct are punished.

Under current state rules, accusations against instructors are brought before an independent arbitrator who decides whether teachers can keep their jobs. If a state Senate bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) passes, Walcott and the head of the state's other school districts will gain the power to make that decision.

Although arbitrators are chosen by the city's education department and the United Federation of Teachers, Bloomberg said there were too many cases in which teachers kept their jobs despite overwhelming evidence against them. "Our administration will absolutely not accept regulations that will put our children at risk," Bloomberg said.

UFT president Michael Mulgrew dismissed the mayor's claims. He said every case is given a through investigation and that the process is fair.

"Giving the Chancellor -- who has previously said that an accusation is not the same thing as a finding of guilt -- the power to ignore the evidence and an arbitrator's decision is not an answer," Mulgrew said.

Walcott disagreed, saying that when he came into office last year, he saw 24 teacher sexual misconduct cases in which the arbitrator made "questionable decisions." He didn't go into details about those cases.

The city's push for reform comes as at least nine educators have been arrested in 2012 on sex-abuse charges.

Bloomberg said Walcott should be able to fire teachers because it is his job to advocate for parents and students. "The teachers union is not there to protect our kids. The teachers union is there to protect the members of the union," Bloomberg said.

"The bottom line is protecting the public is the obligation of the government."

Saland said he was confident his Assembly colleagues would introduce a similar bill, soon, but could not guarantee a vote this legislative session.

SEXUAL ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

Recent incidents involving New York City educators include:

In March, Brooklyn gym teacher Esran Boothe was arrested and charged with sexual abuse after authorities said he grabbed a 16-year-old student's buttocks.

Elementary school computer teacher Wilbert Cortez was accused of groping two male students in Queens in February.

Gregory Atkins, a teacher's aide at an Upper West Side School, was arrested after authorities said he told an 8-year-old boy to strip naked and then touched the boy inappropriately.

High school aide Alfred Walcott was charged with statutory rape in January after prosecutors said he had sex with a 16-year-old student in his car.

Joseph Ponzo, an assistant principal at PS 106 in the Bronx, was arrested last month after being accused of inappropriately touching 10- and 11-year-old girls.

SOURCE: amNewYork

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