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Blog: It's 10 a.m.: Do You Know Where Your Teacher Is?

My daughter's teacher is getting paid to sit in jail.

I do. My daughter’s, Mrs. Kevin Finkelstein, third grade teacher at Carpenter Community Charter for twenty years, is locked away in a bland building on Balboa Boulevard, in Van Nuys.

Why? Because three weeks ago, a child accused her of punching him in the stomach.

Did she punch him in the stomach? No. Was I there? Admittedly, no. Do I begrudge a parent looking out for their child? No. All of this is irrelevant, but I’m getting it out of the way.

You see, the police were called, Child and Family Services were called, and a complaint was made to the district. The first two entities here cleared her immediately. Not the school, and certainly not the district. The child is happily ensconced in another classroom, receiving the full benefits of an invested teacher.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Finkelstein was ordered to what’s commonly referred to as a “Rubber Room.” There are least six of them spread out around the district. She is confined to a cubicle for eight hours a day, mirroring her “work” day. She is not allowed to have anything except a pen, her cell phone to call family, “educational reading materials” to purportedly make her into a better teacher, although she has not been charged with anything. She has zero – zero – information about what charge she’s being detained for; how long she’ll be there; when she might expect a hearing; what that hearing will entail.

Her union, UTLA, instructs her that she may not retain an attorney, because no dismissal charges have been initiated against her. She cannot talk to faculty, parents, or administrators, except for her UTLA rep.  There is a “fate committee” (Housed Employee Review Committee – HERC) that meets only every Monday, to review cases that have been signed off on by principals and an unknown others. This committee serves at the pleasure of its own availability. No one knows who this committee is comprised of, or why they only meet once a week. I can only hope we are not paying these folks salaries to meet once a week, and I can only hope they are fair, just, credentialed, and have no conflict of interest. I’ll never know, because it’s “none of my business.”

A few of us concerned parents have repeatedly written and called Principal Martinez, his boss, Jack Bagwell, instructional director at Service Center North, Tamar Galatzan, our school board member, and Superintendent John Deasy. The only office in this situation to return our calls in a timely and helpful manner has been Tamar Galatzan’s.

For me, there are two separate issues here. A few of us parents got together and outlined some proactive things we might to help our class remain competitive with other third grade classes, be challenged, and feel part of a team. We offered these up to Principal Martinez, and while we can’t get our first choice (a teacher – union rules – can’t have two teachers to one class – even if one happens to be in “jail” for any length of time), we have been able to work out some things that will keep our kids somewhat connected.

The second issue is much bigger, and much scarier. There are currently seventy-three teachers in Mrs. Finkelstein’s Rubber Room. Yes, you read that correctly – 73  - and more arriving every week. Only one person has left in the time she’s been there. There are six district rubber rooms. If we conservatively say there are an average of fifty teachers, that makes three hundred – 300 – teachers in rubber room “limbo.” Some have been there more than three years. They have no choice. If they quit, they lose their health benefits, salary, and enough pension benefits to one day retire.

So, that’s approximately 300 teachers, all of which need substitutes to replace them. Sure, that’s an expensive burden on the schools, but it’s a boon for the district. If the majority of these teachers finally quit for their mental and physical health, the district does not have to pay their full pension, and can cycle in a teacher for half the salary and cheaper pension.

Some say Superintendent John Deasy is using Rubber Room tactics to look like the tough guy in the wake of the Miramonte scandal. That’s certainly my opinion. But I also think there’s something larger at play. He’s just been re-upped for an extra year, but did not meet enough financial and educational goals to get his bonus. Millions, if not billions, in capped pensions and higher pay scale wages can certainly go a long way in getting budgets down and pet projects funded.

Can I point to a lot of facts here? No, because as I said, we are not privy to them. That troubles me. But what troubles me more is the obfuscation I meet at every single level of bureaucracy in my school and my district (the operations coordinator told me all of this was none of my business). Carpenter Community Charter is a crown jewel in LAUSD’s roster of high-performing schools. Does John Deasy really think we will continue to get the high scores that help pull his district average up if we so quickly make our great teachers sacrifices upon the altar of the Rubber Room?

By the way, if Mrs. Finkelstein is reinstated as a teacher, she may not end up coming back to Carpenter. The district can reassign her, and she will have no choice but to go, if she wants her salary and pension.

Not feeling sorry for me, because I’m at a high-performing, fund-rich school? I get that. But ask yourself: if it can happen here, where almost every parent is involved and our teachers are top notch, it can certainly happen anywhere – and believe me, no school in LAUSD will attract talent this way.

There is nothing pro-teacher or pro-child about this Rubber Room travesty. Well, this parent won’t stop, even after Mrs. Finkelstein’s fate is determined.  I have better things to do than fight this, but it’s too important. Let’s not forget schools are comprised of human beings, not numbers.

Speaking of numbers:

Principal Joseph Martinez, 818-761-4363, jmarti14@lausd.net

Jack Bagwell, Instructional Director, Educational Service Center North, 818-654-3600, jack.bagwell@lausd.net

Ms. Robin Toder, Educational Services Coordinator, Educational Service Center North, 818-654-3607, robin.toder@lausd.net

Hon. Tamar Galtzan, 818-654-3785,  tamar.galatzan@lausd.net

Juan Flecha, Administrator of Operations, 818 -654-3670, Juan.flecha@lausd.net

Superintendent John Deasy, 213-241-1000, john.deasy@lausd.net

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Julia Bricklin October 13, 2012 at 04:02 PM
One more thing - not a very odd story - been in mainstream news since Deasy took the job a couple of years ago. You can Google similar ones.
Sheri Haas October 13, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The article said they could have their cells. I also don't think a Patch contributor should have two accounts. I will be interested in following the story.
Julia Bricklin October 14, 2012 at 01:17 AM
She has not been suspended. That is the problem. Not suspended, not formally accused. She has not been taken out of Carpenter. I think we'd all be interested in hearing more about these reports on file - are they public?
Linda Jackson October 14, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Didn't I read that the police investigated and found this was NOT a case of physical abuse, but that she is stuck in this limbo nonetheless? Both of my children had her for 3rd grade -- in fact we asked to have our son placed in her class based on our daughter's outstanding experience -- and we hold her in the highest regard. My son was hospitalized earlier this year with a serious infection and she was the first person from Carpenter to come visit him in the hospital on a Saturday morning, gift in hand to cheer him up. Everyone should be so fortunate to have such a wonderful teacher, champion and friend.
Julia Bricklin October 16, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I have a typo in this blog. Tamar Galatzan's email is: tamar.galatzan@lausd.net. There is an "a" missing in the one above.
Lisa S. October 17, 2012 at 08:58 PM
My daughter is in Mrs. Finkelstein's class now. When she first got her class assignment I was very unhappy, because like most parents at Carpenter I heard all the scary stories about Mrs. Finkelstein. So, as you can imagine, the first day of school was not a happy one for us and my daughter was very apprehensive about starting 3rd grade this year. However, once the school year started I did not see any of the awful things that I heard about Mrs. Finkelstein, and by week two, my daughter told me that she loves her teacher and her class. And I like her much better than our 2nd grade teacher. Now, is that a sign of a bad teacher? Also, I noticed one very interesting fact about all of Mrs. Finkelstein's bad reputation. While I heard lots of bad things said about her, most of them were hearsay. These negative stories are all about a friend of a friend, of a friend, who said something or heard something. Meanwhile most of the positive feedback about her came straight from the horse's mouth, the parents and the students themselves. And I have heard plenty of parents and students rave about her. Even if you read through the comments on this blog you will notice the same thing occurring... mysterious negative rumors vs. actual parents speaking up about their kids' wonderful experiences with Mrs. Finkelstein.
Jennifer October 18, 2012 at 06:02 PM
My son has Mrs. Finkelstein as well and he was ecstatic when he found out. We had our transitional quarries, but they were quickly addressed and rectified very professionally. Mrs. Finkelstein has been nothing but kind and concerned for my son's mental and physical well-being since the school year started. My question is of the person/ kid accusing her of physical abuse, why wait? Why didn't they come forth right after it happened? Why are they trying to destroy a caring, well-accredited teacher's career and hurt her students who miss her and need her? My son want's his teacher back!!!
Mindi October 18, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Really Amber....you never saw her be inappropriate or unprofessional, even a bit crazed....pretty sure you were there when she went off on me in front of students and parents....Sorry to have to point that out....its just surprising about selective memory at Carpenter. You are not alone in that.
Mindi October 18, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Julia you as someone personally familiar with education and me as LCSW...teachers are no longer a class that needs protection in my opinion. Salaries and benefits are way more than so many in this country make. Private Sector jobs are much harder because there is no union telling your boss you cant fire this one or that .Public sector jobs have their burden but so do all jobs. There should be no profession today that exists because of how long you worked somewhere. Age, life, and other personal issues change us all. New teachers are not getting hired and even better are getting riffed because those burn out , not up with the times or even no longer professional in their role, sit in these schools...all schools waiting for their pension and it is our kids that lose. Truth is yes, ageism is illegal but but there is truth to companies needing new fresh ideas or perspectives. It is unconscionable that teachers get to stay employed after repeat complaints. They are no more special or sacred or deserve better treatment than your produce guy or dry cleaner guy who treats customers poorly and gets fired. They are and should be more accountable due to the fact the have our kids more hours of the day then we do. There should be annual evaluations for teachers and by tenure they should have gone through many interviews on stability.
Mindi October 18, 2012 at 07:49 PM
My overall word on this is that sadly there may be an LAUSD witch hunt due to all the sexual abuse occurring. Sexual abuse is not isolated and out of no where. If we look at perpetrators, they do not come out of no where; they are able to breed in an environment of nonprofessional, inappropriate boundaries and lack of accountability in scope of practice. It is sad for those wasting away in the rubber rooms but it is better than the alternatives or turning a blind eye!
jossamber shapiro October 18, 2012 at 09:29 PM
It is the same person and it was not intentional. I am not sure how that happened.
Jon Adams October 19, 2012 at 06:53 AM
What is going on ? This teacher was cleared by the police And Child and Family services than why is she being held In this “rubber room” ? I read that there are 300 teachers In this place ? Are you kidding ? What is this Deasy guy and This Robin Toder woman doing …. Not all teachers are great But this sounds like something that would happen in Nazi Germany. I have kids in LA Unified and stories like this make Me sick. Sounds like it’s the “in” thing to do, for the schools And the parents to attack each other all the time. Is this what Going to school has become ? Parents attack each other with Their comments, boy that seems helpful, and the LA Unified Schools have now become a jail. Pretty soon the schools will Become jails for the kids to.
Julia Bricklin October 19, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Well put, Jon, and my point exactly. All of the information about this can be pulled from various news stories. Lots of "secret committees" involved in making decisions about the teacher's fate, and they're not getting "charged" or "processed" by LAUSD for months - sometimes years.
Julia Bricklin October 19, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Arminae - teachers don't just "get fired." She was not charged with anything. Period. The point is, this can happen to any teacher - whether you happen to personally like them or not, whether they actually did anything or not. It would be like if someone at your job accused you of theft or assault, then the police cleared you of any wrongdoing, but then your job made you sit in an off-site "holding cell" for weeks or months or years on end, while they did their own "secret investigation." So, while you might dislike Mrs. Finkelstein, there are reasons we have due process in place, and why we should be distrustful of "secret committees" that we PAY for at our schools but have no idea who they are or what they do. Assuming you pay taxes in our district, you are paying twice for every teacher that's "in limbo" and the sub that takes his or her place. This has little to do with Mrs. Finkelstein as an individual, and everything to do with a much larger picture.
Julia Bricklin October 19, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Where's the scolding? Yes, of course you are entitled to your opinion. I'm merely pointing out that the point of my original article was not that Mrs. Finkelstein is or isn't a good teacher, but that the system is flawed - all of it, including the unions and how they interact with the district.
Lisa Misraje October 19, 2012 at 07:52 PM
The fight for Mrs. Findkelstein’s return to Carpenter should NOT be based on parental disconnects. They have nothing to do with the children whose lives she has positively impacted for almost 30 years within LAUSD. Such a discrepancy should have NO bearing on what has been Mrs. Finkelstein’s commitment to her classroom, to our children’s education; to the community service (inside and outside of Carpenter) that she exposes our children to each year; she loves and cares for each and every one of her students. Love her or not, Mrs. Finkelstein is NOT out of her classroom over a dispute with a parent. This comment is despicable. This is her livelihood. Let’s talk facts about why Mrs. Finkelstein is sitting in a rubber room waiting each day to return to her classroom. That is where our energy should be exerted not in a character defamation campaign that has NOTHING to do with her exit from school four weeks ago. Criminals have more freedom then what’s happening to many teachers in these so called rubber rooms. The kids in her classroom and our community want her back! Check your ego’s at the door and look at the big picture here….LAUSDs rubber room’s….is there no due process for our teachers, again this is someone’s livelihood, and let us not forget the accusation made was cleared by both the LAPD and Child Services. Help us help Mrs. Finkelstein to return! Thank you. Lisa Misraje
Lisa Misraje October 19, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Infamous...or did you mean FAMOUS. I have heard that Mrs. Finkelstein is an extraordinary teacher. This is what I have heard. Through our school community as a volunteer I have forged a relationship with Mrs. Finkelstein. You have made some pretty vulgar comments based on hear say. Please stop. There is no need for this. Have a great day.
David Kohn October 19, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Yes the system is flawed. Where are our children's interests in all of this? This whole incident is outrageous. Kevin is a caring and intensely creative teacher. She helps cultivate kids minds and enables them to build self esteem and become critical thinkers. My 4th grade son adored her last year and walked out of her third grade class more confident and organized than ever before. My youngest sons' education lies in limbo, while the bureaucratic nonsense of this school district goes into play. The fact that we cannot get a straight story from anyone is outrageous. Our hard-earned tax money would be much better spent keeping teachers in the classroom, doing their jobs, then in some holding pen, treating them like animals. It's disturbing, upsetting and just plain nonsense.
Jon Adams October 19, 2012 at 11:10 PM
This LA Unified school district is crazy. A holding cell for teachers ? What's next put your principal in the "pen (itentiary) day" ? I guess they have to blame someone.
Julia Bricklin October 19, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Agree, Jon. There was/is a time/place when some modified and smart form of this would have been appropriate. Now, because it's such a pile of multilayered nonsense, it has the opposite effect on me: I assume everybody in there is innocent, and the real bad ones just know how to game the system. Removes any and all common sense.
Lauri Jon Caravella October 24, 2012 at 07:12 PM
This mysterious committee, that hold the fate of so many of these teachers in limbo, now only meets every other Monday. So teachers stay in limbo is even longer.
Richard Daggenhurst October 24, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Our child was a pupil of Mrs. Finelkstein's in the 3rd grade; he is now in 5th grade. She was a terrific teacher and also a very kind, nurturing and caring person. It is inconceivable that Mrs. Finkelstein struck the child, I don't believe a word of it. I have called each of the phone numbers listed above (btw, the correct number for Sup. Deasy's office is 213-241-7000, not 1000). I left messages on each phone stating my experience with, and view of, Mrs. Finkelstein, and asked that if parents are allowed to come to any hearing, to bear character witness, I should be allowed to attend to express support for Mrs. Finkelstien as a teacher and as human being. I did speak with a lady in Sup. Deasy's office, who said that Mr. Deasy is away until Friday and would not be able to get back to me until Monday, and possibly that it would be another person in Sup. Deasy's office who would return my call. The lady said that this was the first that she had heard of the Finkelstein matter; she also said that there are several persons in that ofice who take calls, so this might explain why she had not heard of the matter before. In any event, this comment is not about the iniquities or otherwise of the 'rubber room' (it does though sound rather futile to me, it's damage control against lawsuits, it appears to do nothing towards a swift resolution of the 'did she/didn't she' question), this email to express support for Mrs. Finkelstein, as well as the firm belief that she did nothing wrong.
Julia Bricklin October 24, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Richard, thank you. I am dismayed to hear that she said this was the first she'd heard of it. However, Deasy and the office are keenly aware of it. I know this because a) well over 100 of us have sent snail and email letters, and b) I received a call from a coordinator in the Service Center North who told me she was calling me as a result of my initial email to Deasy. As you say, there are a million people there, but not for one minute are they blind to this matter. Thank you so much for correcting the Deasy phone number, by the way.
Thistles October 26, 2012 at 05:34 AM
Friends, There is now a petition to bring Mrs. Finkelstein back to Carpenter. We started with a goal of 100 signatures and have received that and more in one day! I think this is saying something very significant about how many parents and children treasure this teacher. There is a very active group of parents that want Mrs. Finkelstein back at Carpenter. Please read all the comments from parents that currently have her and have had her in the past. We created a petition entitled Get Mrs. Finkelstein Back to Carpenter Community Charter. To read more about what I'm trying to do and to sign my petition, click here: http://www.change.org/petitions/lausd-board-member-tamar-galatzan-get-mrs-finkelstein-back-in-the-classroom?share_id=nWBiCFoGlo&utm_campaign=petition_creator_email&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition It'll just take a minute! Once you're done, please ask your friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word! From, Finkelstein Supporters from Carpenter Community Charter
Thomas Bliss October 26, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Kevin is a fantastic educator. Our son had her and she actually became a friend of the entire family. How often does that happen? I can't imagine her striking a child but in any case she - and her students - deserves due process and prompt resolution of this matter.
E.M. Fredric November 11, 2012 at 09:07 PM
It is now almost Thanksgiving and this teacher remains in what is termed a "rubber room"? What is wrong with this system that months pass over an incident witnessed by another child as harmless - yet no one will listen to the the child who saw this boy was never hit? This is beyond frightening. Set this woman free and clear her name. Better yet, bring in the young accuser and do a background on what his story in school has been. Oh... he's a minor so that's not going to happen. Even when there's a witness that sat next to him in class and was silenced for coming forward to defend an action that never took place - this teacher is punished with no right to defend herself? Something is very, very wrong here.
Julia Bricklin November 12, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Thank you, E.M. Agree completely. Hope to have a positive update sooner rather than later.
Marcia Weiss November 28, 2012 at 05:43 AM
My son had Ms Finkelstein, aka Cottrell years ago at Carpenter. He loved her. We loved her. I am a teacher of 26 years who knows a fantastic teacher when I see one. My son, now in law school, is appalled. What has this world come to?
Jon Adams November 28, 2012 at 10:10 AM
I am glad Ms. Finkelstein is back. She did not deserve to be put in jail. I can't believe that John Deasy and this Juan Flech would do this to teachers, put them in jail. They are innocent, cleared by the police and they keep them in jail. How can Tamar Galatzan let this happen ? I thought school was about learning not visiting your teacher in teacher jail.
Julia Bricklin November 28, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Hi Jon, Marcia. I'm so happy to say she's back, after ten weeks of heck and hard work. She returns today, but we have a lot of teachers to help. Read today's Daily News, linked here. http://www.dailynews.com/breakingnews/ci_22078074/lausd-jails-fill-teachers-misconduct-complaints-rise

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