Summer Vacation is also Discontinuance Season in the UFT

While many of us are enjoying our summers, other UFT members are in a state of panic as they receive—or expect to receive—notices of discontinuance.

Discontinuances are one of the oddest and cruelest fixtures of the DOE’s employment structure. With the stroke of a pen, a single principal can destroy a young teacher’s career for ‘any and no reason.’ And those unlucky enough to be in this situation have little recourse. (Indeed, the best solutions are usually preventative – convincing a principal to let one go onto OpenMarket before a discontinuance is issued, a method that will be useless for teachers already receiving surprise notices in July and August).

The root of the problem lies in New York State tenure law. Through the process of discontinuance, districts in the empire state can remove a teacher from further consideration of tenure—i.e. fire and blacklist them within the school district of record—for any and no reason. But in Albany, Utica, Elmira, and Buffalo, teachers discontinued from one district can easily commute on over to the next one, resuming their careers without much difficulty. New York City, however, is often the only commutable work location for teachers who live here. That means a discontinuance in Manhattan or Brooklyn leaves many teachers with the unenviable choice of either getting out of teaching or getting out of Dodge.

The problem is doubly bad for High School teachers, who are counted by the City as working under one single district for tenure purposes. Whether the discontinued teacher had been working in St. George or Coop City, their career—as, say, an NYC high school Spanish teacher—is over. For them, being discontinued means they can either try their luck in middle schools or apply to work under a different license, assuming they have one. Elementary teachers, on the other hand, are only discontinued in the geographic district they work in, which means that—unless they had worked in the single-districted Staten Island—they can resume their careers within even the same borough, assuming they can find a school willing to hire them. The High School Executive Board put forward a resolution, which passed at the DA, to make the high school experience comparable to the elementary one, but even if we succeed, that won’t be nearly good enough.

That’s because, even for elementary school teachers, being discontinued means getting a city-wide black mark—a red flag—that makes principals who could hire you in the limited aforementioned contexts think twice before doing so. It’s why, while single-licensed high school physics teachers are de jure discontinued from working in all of New York City after being denied tenure, elementary school teachers are often de facto discontinued from working in the rest of the city as well, unless they have a particularly hard-to-staff license and/or are willing to work in a hard-to-staff district.

Why do we have a system by which in order to free up a position at a NYC school, a principal has to destroy the career of the teacher they want to replace? There are absolutely teachers who may show they are unfit to work in any school at all, but why do we submit those teachers to the same ‘firing finality’ as a first year teacher who would probably be fine with a little more work? Or the teacher doing a stellar job but who is in the way of hiring the principal’s neighbor’s newly certified niece?

It’s a question we need to ask. Teaching in New York City is not like other careers in New York City. Getting fired from a law firm means you lose your job at the law firm, not at all law firms in the city. But, because there is effectively only one employer for teachers in New York, losing your job as a teacher at one school means effectively losing your entire career.

Today, the 2023 contract ballot count is taking place. Discontinued teachers will never work under that contract, should it pass. But, probationary teachers set to work in September will. And they’ll find not a single line in that contract offering them enhanced due process for discontinuance. They’ll find no language offering reduced consequences for being discontinued for different reasons. It’s a glaring omission—and one of many things that must be fixed should we get a chance to go back to the bargaining table.

Teachers deserve better than the possibility of losing their careers as educators in New York City due to the whims of an errant or abusive principal. We can and must rectify the situation.


  • Avatar
    Howie Siegel

    As long as the CSA is ” in bed” with the UFT, nothing will change. It seems the “”we do the work” UFT has decided they no longer have the stomach to engage in conflict with the CSA ( the supervisor ‘ s union).
    I know staff is reluctant to, but withholding dues is the only way to shake up Mulgrew and his gang. Remember, most of your benefits do NOT come from the UFT. They are ADMINISTERED by the UFT.
    The raise you got? When Baseball legend Ralph Kiner asked for a raise after leading the National League in home runs , the answer he got: ” No raise for you. We could have finished last without you ” So when the district reps or others from the UFT visit your school, tell them ” thanks for nothing.”

    • BaconUFT

      Paying dues keeps us in the UFT and able to fight. On the Executive Board, for instance, New Action and UFC were able to put forward a motion that later passed at the DA compelling UFT to lobby for high school teachers to have more options if they’re discontinued. So far, that’s only meant lip service, but we’ll keep pushing. I agree though about CSA. UFT should recognize that they are not our allies–they are our bosses, and they’re far too empowered to do our members harm.

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    Its great we got the TRO but you didn’t mention the complaint was brought by Nyc organization of retirees not new action as implied

    • BaconUFT

      This was most certainly the NYC Organization of Retirees. The oversight and apparent implication was accidental. New Action has donated to their cause, of course, but that’s a very different thing. I will update the post.

  • Avatar

    I would like to offer an idea. There is a general public comment section at the PEP meeting. I think that all the discontinued teachers should sign up and speak directly to the Chancellor and the school board members to plead their case. It should be done publicly and we should see what the charges are against these teachers. It would also give people a idea of the number of discontinuances that are being handed out this year. If teachers are going to lose their city license and not be allowed to teach in the public schools in NYC, there should be a panel to hear their case, One principal should not have the power to terminate a city teaching license.

    • BaconUFT

      Interesting idea. I think we’d have to organize that ourselves. UFT leadership is not as anti-discontinuance as you might think. I remember one highly paid staffer came out at an executive board meeting and said something along the lines of ‘I support discontinued teachers, but am also a parent and see the need for safeguards.’ Not saying she’s completely wrong on that front of course, but jeez. With so many frivolous discontinuances, we need to do better to protect our union members.

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