How I went from Hi-Tech lab to the Rubber Room

Time I was kept out of the classroom for no reason:

747 days

From STEM Lab (above)

to thisreassignment center (below)

The short version:

My name is Francesco Alexander Portelos. I am a parent and educator of Staten Islands North Shore. I was teaching technology at Berta Dreyfus IS 49 for 5 years after I left a successful 7 year career in the Environmental Engineering/Inspection field. My record, as a teacher and school community member, wasstellar.After I became a new father in the community, my focus transcended past my praised classroom and I looked at the issues at the school as a whole. The school is currentlyranked 939th out of 1,124 middle schools in NY State. I had a lot of work to do. It was a school that my son would be going to in just 10 short years. As I brought attention to matters, such as discipline, budget and school goals, a hostile work environment was suddenly created around me. Principal Linda Hill began calling me a hindrance to the community and questioning my classroom instruction that was previously praised. It did not stop me as I knew something was going on and I pushed forward starting investigations on potential financial misconduct and educational neglect. I submitted the allegations on January 26, 2012. Starting on January 30, 201230+ allegations were made against me, and3 disciplinary letterswere placed in my file in just 10 days, I received my first unsatisfactory classroom observation and I wasultimatelyremoved from school on April 26, 2012. I was sent to a basement storage room with two small gated windows(Rubber Room). It was 20 miles, 6 districts and two boroughs away from my school and home. I was there for over a year before I was moved again. Waitingwaiting for what The investigations on the administrators back at Berta Dreyfus 49 The investigations on me My Federal lawsuit In the meantime, the students lose out the most.

Now if you have time and some popcorn, read the more detailed version

The long version:

I am Francesco Alexander Portelos. I am an educator and Ilovemy job. I am an NYU Polytechnic University Civil/Environmental Engineer turned middle school teacher and this is my story on how I went from hero to villain by bringing up the needs of the students and community.

For four and half years I served my community and school,Berta Dreyfus IS 49,the best I could (see links above, The Good andComments). I stayed late almost every day to not only renovate myS.T.E.M. Lab2 times and create engaging lessons, but to also troubleshoot tech issues for colleagues, design more efficient ways to communicate in a 21st century world plus much, much more. MyRobotics teamhas won countless awards in Staten Island including Top Design in NYC.

With years of satisfactory ratings and countless thank you emails, I somehow received3 Disciplinary Lettersin my file in 10 days, have been harassed by my administrators, had about 30+ investigations started on me, confiscating my DOE issued iPad, Macbook and teacher PC and asked to resign as UFT Chapter Delegate and finally removed from the school. I also received my first ever unsatisfactory observation. This all happened in a 2 month period.

See updated graph on Negative Incidents plotted against my time in school. The retaliation speaks for itself in just this paragraph. Does it not

Graph - Allegations against Mr. Portelos vs Time

Graph Allegations against Mr. Portelos vs Time

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN Nuke some popcorn for this story.

Everything was going pretty smooth, on my end, at school for 4.5 years. I loved teaching and my principal, students and parents loved my class and dedication to the school. However, I did not entirely agree with all the waysmytroubled schoolwas being run. After I became a father I decided to become proactive in my community. I became Union Delegate and also obtained a seat on the School Leadership Team (SLT) amongst many other things like speaking up in meetings about safety and lack of discipline. As part of the SLT I noticed we were never talking about the Comprehensive Educational Plan (our schools goals) or budget which were our main team goals. This despite the NY State Ed department tearing our school apart in the JIT report in 2011. At my fourth meeting, December 13 2011, while the principal was out speaking with the State Quality Review, I asked the SLT ChairpersonAre we ever going to talk about the CEP and Budget. I did not wait for the principal to leave, it was just that she was not there. This sparked a debate as more and more SLT members, including parents, were wondering the same thing. The principal walked in and when asked she told us The CEP was due December 1st. I already submitted it. Now the SLT members, comprised of educators and parents, all have to sign it. This caused suspicious looks from the parents and staff.When the principal stepped out again we started looking for answers. The UFT leader, Richard Candiasaid that we could have called an emergency meeting before the due date had we known. I found anSLT Support siteand with the knowledge ofallmembers present (including the chairperson) sent the following email to the contact person:

MY EMAIL TO SLT SUPPORT SITE

On Dec 13, 2011, Francesco Portelos <fportelos@gmail.com> wrote:

Jim,
I just found your SLT blog. Very interesting. I am a brand new member to the team and very disheartened to see that all we do is discuss calendar events. We had absolutely no input in our schools budget or CEP. What can we do We all just left a meeting very upset.

-Francesco

HIS RESPONSE

From: <calantjis@aol.com>
Date: Dec 14, 2011 7:13 PM
Subject: Re: School Leadership Team

Dear Francesco,Your principals violating Chancellors RegulationsA-655andB-801andState Educational Law 2590-H (15).Speak with the PTA President and Chapter Leader who are core members of the Team with the Principal. Speak with the principal with other members and inform them that you will have to file a complaint with the Superintendent.You can also contact the District Leadership Team for assistance and FACE, the DOE parent advocacy department.
The Team is suppose to be working on the 2012-2013 CEP and budget alignment this school year.Feel free to share this e-mail.Sincerely,
James Calantjis
calantjis@aol.com
sltsupport.blogspot.com

I was very surprised by his response and forwarded it to UFT Chapter Leader Rich Candia and SLT Chairperson Susanne Abramowitz to see how we can rectify this matter. Remember these two names as they later corroborated on false accusations against methat lead to disciplinary files and my removal from school.

From:Francesco Portelos<fportelos@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 7:44 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: School Leadership Team
To: Rich Candia ,Susanne Abramowitz

What do we do

-Francesco

No Response from them.

I believe this is the point where they turned on me and made me a scapegoat instead of performing the job they were elected to do. Had they, and Principal Linda Hill, acted in a proper and professional manner this would have been resolved back then. They did not and instead started building a baseless case against me. Richard Candia and Susanne Abramowitz eventually wrote false statements about me.See File Letter1 in theDisciplinary Lettersection. By the way, I happened to have recorded the entire conversation and will use it in an upcoming lawsuit. In that recording it is Susanne Abramowitz who is cursing and yelling.

Here is a clip I extracted from the 17 minute recording. Warning: Adult language used:

http://soundcloud.com/user768797347/susanne-abramowitz-outburts

Note: During a Federal deposition that took place over a year later, Susanne Abramowitz admitted to being upset that I reached out to outside sources and even admitted to private meetings with UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia and Principal Linda Hill.

Between Attorney Bryan Glass and Susanne Abramowitz

Between Attorney Bryan Glass and Susanne Abramowitz

January 2012 (after winter break) a hostile work environment was created around me.UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia then began texting me that I was thrown under the bus because Principal Linda Hill was told about my inquiry pertaining to the SLT and budget issues. Principal Hill emailed me she would like to discuss my class instruction methods which were never brought up before. More text messages from Richard Candia to me continued stating dont trust her [principal]this is cuz she was told that u emailed slt issue, I think this is Lindas reaction to bein told thatwhen did she ever question ur teaching b4, now that QR is overnow there are new targets..there are always new targets., I think she is afraid of the problems u could cause her. Richard Candia continued with texts relating to Principal Hills after school per-session activity and made some serious allegations pertaining to potential financial misconduct. At one point he tells me on the phone I have so much stuff on her Frankiethe woman should be arrested, not firedarrested! He made further comments about calling the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Richard Condon and text me 212 510 1500 whistleblowers are protected, y is timecard hidden if there is nothing to hide. The harassment continued.I was kicked under a table by Richard Candia, when my coworkers were being misrepresented at a meeting, I was asked to resign as union delegate, I had my email account suspended by the Principal Hill for a website I owned (I had given her access), I was berated and called a hindrance to the school, divisive by the principal and unprofessional by an Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre. This was done even though I rallied to keep the PS 14 down the block open the night before. I wassmeared in an email to the staff. I, all of a sudden, had my class lessons that were praised for years now questioned and criticized. I believe this was in an effort to shut me up. It was a BIG MISTAKE and it backfired because I dug deeper andfound things. This was my school community and I was not backing down! They awoke a sleeping giant!

On January 26 2012 I put in an anonymous complaint(later I stated my name) that was brought to our attention by UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia. It involved potential double dipping and financial misconduct by the administration. We needed to know if it was true and I was hoping it was not. I emailed the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) giving them 3 years worth of after school activity to cross reference with time sheets. It was referred to the DOEs Office of Special Investigation (OSI)Case #2012-1950 R-OSI 12-533. As of Aug 24, 2012 It is still being investigated.

February -I tried laying low, but it was useless. Their attacks became more fierce and all parties involved avoided any eye contact with me. All of a sudden I went from not havingANYdisciplinary letters in my file to havingTHREE in just 10 days!

I only told union representatives that I called in the allegations about potential financial misconduct, but in a meeting on February 14, 2012 Principal Linda Hill told District 31 Superintendent Erminia Claudio that she knew about it. That still puzzles me how she knew. Maybe she realized that I was the only one in the whole school who had the guts to call an investigation. She did mention my guts before stating I may not like what you say Mr. Portelos, but least you have the guts to say it.

On February 28, 2012 Two investigators from SCI and Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre came to my class while I was teaching. They unplugged and took the desktop that runs my lab (Still missing as of May 15). I had NO REPRESENTATION and when I inquired about speaking to a lawyer, one investigator, Michael Kenny, replied You dont need a lawyer. We are just getting what belongs to us. They then came to my house to take the DOE Macbook and iPad I was using for a grant. (I left them home because it was a half day and often did work and research at home.) My UFT issued lawyer later told me that I was being investigated because I took back my access to dreyfus49.com, the site I own, and allegedly took away access from Principal Linda Hill. [One second. so I put in a request to investigate about 3 years of per session activity on January 26 and as of May 15 have no results, but an investigation about me allegedly suspending an account on a website I own was started immediately]

That evening of February 28, 2012, after Parent Teacher conferences, I held my son Alexander and thought to myself If they come after me and my job, then they come after my family!! Now it wasmyturnthe gloves were off and technology was my turf!

I created a website to collect mydocumentationshowing 4.5 years of excellent service to Berta Dreyfus Intermediate 49. On March 7, 2012 it went public.www.protectportelos.orgI was absolutely disgusted by their actions and the public needed to know what happens to their tax dollars.Everyone started to get a play by play as the drama unfolded. On March 9th , AP Joanne Aguirre called in a new false allegations based on the new website.

Im out for jury duty only a week and the very next time I put in my foot in the door this happens

The hostile work environment continued though. On March 16, 2012 Ireturned to work after being out for a week of jury duty. I found my room a mess. My first period back Mrs. Joanne Aguirre and network rep from CFN 211 walked in with clipboards. Since I always receivedSatisfactoryratings(even up until December 2011 before budget talks) and students and parents loved my class, they had to try to get me really off guard. The special education students I was teaching still learned about engineering principles despite theinterruptionsmade by the observers that day. The 90 minute observation led to my first everUnsatisfactoryin 5 years of teaching. It was very poorly written and anything positive was strategically omitted by Ms. Aguirre. During the post observation meeting she even stated The students were notanswering your questions and 3 minutes later states They were not even raising their handsthey were just blurting out answers! <Really It was even more interesting when I found Ms. Aguirre was an AP for the last 7 years, prior to that a Dean and prior to that a resource teacher. So when was the last time she was in front of a class

At the March SLT meeting I was out deliberating as a juror and attended the meeting late. Would you believe that SLT Chairperson, Susanne Abramowitz and Principal Linda Hill, who were involved in the State Law and Chancellors Reg violations, tried to vote me out They lost the vote and I remained. They continued with their smear campaign while I was absent.

On or about March 20, 2012 a coworker asked me how I am handling all this while we were in the hallway. I put my fist up and proclaimed Staying Strong! At that point AP Joanne Aguirre passes me andmimicked me to the staff member repeating Stay Strong Mary AnnStay strong!.

Since I had called in and did not appear to see any movement for the allegations I put in back in January, Iexercised my rights and sent the following FOIL requestNotice the date (4 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)

From:Francesco Portelos<fportelos@gmail.com>

Date: Sat, Mar 24, 2012 at 9:24 AM
Subject: FOIL REQUEST Principal Timecards
To: JBaranello3@schools.nyc.gov
Cc: MBest@schools.nyc.gov, DMWalcott@schools.nyc.gov

Dear Mr. Baranello,

Pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, please send me copies by Email of the following records:

1) Principal Linda Hills (R049) time cards for all per-session activity from January 2009 to February 2012.

2) The periodic time sheets, or equivalent records, that were submitted to the Per Session Payroll Unit (or wherever they may have been submitted), and that reflect, or contain, the number of per session hours for which Principal Linda Hill had been paid during each reporting period from January 2009 to February 2012.

3) AssistantPrincipal Denise Diacomanolis (R049) time cards for all per-session activity from January 2009 to February 2012.

4)The periodic time sheets, or equivalent records, that were submitted to the Per Session Payroll Unit (or wherever they may have been submitted), and that reflect, or contain, the number of per session hours for which Assistant Principal Denise Diacomanolis had been paid during each reporting period from January 2009 to February 2012.

The time cards are probably located at IS 49 in Staten Island, and the periodic time sheets are probably located at both IS 49 and 65 Court Street.
I would appreciate a response within five business days of receipt as required by law.

Thank you for your cooperation.
Sincerely,

Francesco Portelos

(They responded that they were collecting that data and I should have it by April 20, 2012 and later pushed it back to May 30, 2012)

  • *Note-The reason I also requested the information pertaining to Assistant Principal Denise Diacomanolis is because in April of 2011, I personally witnessed her punch her time card in at 2:30 for an ELL program, heard her say she was visiting a family member, leave the building and was somehow punched out 2 hours later. As per the recommendation of UFT Richard Candia, OSI was notified about that. More recently this year she has been observed taking several time cards from a locked drawer, punching them all through the time clock and locking them back up. Does that sound right taxpayer
  • On March 26, after fighting an army solo, I called the NYC DOE Office of Equal Opportunity and informed them of the harassment and retaliation. I also informed them of the fact that Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre was harassing me at school also made veryinappropriate comments to me back in the fall and continued to harass me since then. Notice the date (4 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)
  • Just 3 days later the sameassistantprincipal, Joanne Aguirre, calls me into an office to give my that first Unsatisfactory Rating. The timing was impeccable.

On April 11 I attempted to go higher to finally get some results on all this wrong doing. I received this in the mail.Notice the date (2 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)


  • My intentions were and always will be for the improvement of the school, so I would report more wrongdoing. Call me a whisteblower, a trouble maker,or a boat rockerIt doesnt bother me because we have the education of children at stake here and thatsupersedesall. On April 19, 2012 I contacted SCI about how AP Denise Diacomanolis placed an 8th grade honors student in a 6th grade ELL class for two weeks stating if you want to act like a baby, then we will treat you like a baby.Does that sound right Case was referred to OSI case # 12-2251. Status unknown.
  • On April 19, 2012 I also reported the false accusation allegations against Mr. Richard Candia and Mrs. Susanne Abramowitz. They corroborated on a story and stated that in a private meeting I showed professional misconduct and made up lies about me cursing. They are in violation of NYC Charter 1116. Fraud; neglect of duty; willful violation of law relative tooffice. a. Any council member or other officer or employee of the citywho shall wilfully violate or evade any provision of law relating tosuch officers office or employment, or commit any fraud upon the city,or convert any of the public property to such officers own use, orknowingly permit any other person so to convert it or by gross orculpable neglect of duty allow the same to be lost to the city, shall bedeemed guilty of a misdemeanor and in addition to the penalties imposedby law and on conviction shall forfeit such office or employment, and beexcluded forever after from receiving or holding any office oremployment under the city government.b. Any officer or employee of the city or of any city agency who shallknowingly make a false or deceptive report or statement in the course ofduty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, forfeit suchoffice or employment.Case was referred to OSI case # 12-2291. As of August 22, it was CLOSED without one investigator asking me about the recording or anything.
  • APRIL 26, 2012 I WALKED IN TO BERTA DREYFUS IS 49, THE SCHOOL I LOVED AND WAS HANDED PAPERS BY PRINCIPAL LINDA HILL AND AP JOANNE AGUIRRE. I WAS TOLD NOT TO COME BACK BECAUSE I WAS BEING INVESTIGATED. 200+ PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS LOST OUT ON A QUALITY EDUCATION FOR THE NEXT 2 MONTHS. TEACHERS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION.

Now do you see why I was possibly removed The UFT Chapter Elections were also under way and they wanted me out before I could win the seat as Chapter Leader. Does that sound like Union Busting I was still on the IS 49 payroll and still ran for Chapter Leader anyway. I WON!

Its not enough that I was removed though. Those who oppose me continue the harassment after my reassignment:

1. They disabled my DOE official email access so I cannot communicate or receive official communication nor access my payroll/benefits online!!!

2. They blocked my private email, mrportelos@gmail.com, from emailing any schools.nyc.gov account. I tested it and it happened after I sent them an email they did not like.

3. They moved me out of my district to Queens (1 hr away) in violation of Chancellors Regulations C-770 . Yes they are violating their own rules. Can you believe that There reasoning is that they moved me from Petrides because ready for thisAccording to Gary Laveman, the grievance officer,who received this information from the Director of Human Resources, Andrew Gordon, I was out of control the 2.5 days at Petrides. Instead of being in my room I was out on the ball field!!! I was the opposite of cordial. Me I really thought he had the wrong report. I asked to face my accusers and still request a disciplinary hearing to find out who is accusing me of these erroneous acts. It wasnt my supervisor there. I know because I asked her. They are not responding to my requests. In fact Gary Laveman told my union rep that there are 6-7 investigations on me and my location is the least of my problems. I called their bluff and requested a disciplinary hearing to discuss this made up behavior. 2 weeks later there is no response to my request. SEE POST HERE

4. The wont even allow me to go and get any of my belongings that I have collected in my lab for 5 years.UPDATE :Small Claims Court case on October 18, 2012 in Staten Island

5. The DOE continues to scour every corner to find things on me. Maybe they will find what they need to terminate me if they make it up. Perhaps they will find a Jaywalking ticket I may have received when I was 23. Perhaps they will find I may not recycle properly. Someway they will find a way to try and terminate me.In the mean time, people are seeing what is happening and I am gathering largesupport.

Speaking of support :

Why hasnt the CEC for District 31 responded Where is the superintendent Where are the community parent groups and FACE Why hasnt anyone responded to my formal complaints about Chancellors Regulation violations What about the NY State Education Law 2590(h) that was broken by not allowing the SLT to take part in the CEP goals and budget alignment What about how the schools goals were certified and put online in March without the SLT signing and approving

Do you know that since I was removed on April 26, 2012 I have:

  • had an article about my innovative teaching methods published in theNY Teacher
  • applied for a US Patent for an innovative online shopping site calledFaceshop.me-where you shop for clothes on retail sites with your own face.
  • Continued working on an education site I designed calledFridegwork.com-where teachers could post assignments and students post their work and get peer reviewed comments
  • NOTE: None of the above work occurred during taxpayer time!
  • Won UFT Chapter Leader after being in exile for 50 days
  • Filed a PERBimproper practicecomplaint. Initial hearing July 20, 2012
  • Federal Lawsuit against DOE.

Update: The DOE is now attempting to terminate me.The public hearing began on September 12, 2013 and we had closing arguments on February 12, 2014. 21 days of hearings. We now await a decision.

More recently the DOE attorneys made false allegations to the NY Police Department and I was detained for 33 hours before I was released and the District Attorney declined to prosecute.

UPDATE: Termination Hearing Verdict Is In

 

Again, ridiculous allegations against me postedhere

UPDATE: I am running for President of theUFT in 2016 SeeUFT2016.com

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About Francesco Portelos

Parent and Educator fighting for the student and the teacher.

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12 Comments

  1. Pingback: protectportelos

  2. Very interesting and seems similar to my experience at Harlem Renaissance HS under the direction of Mary Rice-Boothe. It must be part of the training manual at the leadership academy on how to go after teachers who are not “team” players. The funny thing about Mary, she was so bad, they extended her probation a fourth year and then was let go. Later Marisol Bradbury hired her at a network to consult new principals. That is what she does now. This should be criminal. She was absolutely horrible and a cold hearted administrator who took many of the staff down.

  3. I am so sorry by reasding all the that happened to you .we all found you a very hardworking and caring teacher who is really concerned about the students .how we can help you do we need to call the school or DOE wish you a good luck

    • No luck involved. It is a coordinated, trained attack on teachers who are student advocates. You are labeled as not a team player. You wait on their timetable and then get blamed for it, then hope you get the luck of the draw with an arbitrator who may be independent minded. The DOE investigative units never go after the truth, it is always an attack on the teacher. Way to many tools are given to principals to go after teachers and other staff who they do not like for non professional reasons, no matter the competence of the principal.

  4. I’ve known you for 3 years now and i know you wouldnt do those things. You’re an honorable man and you’re a hardworking man. Obviously Abromawitz and Candia are too scared of Hill and they dont wanna lose what they have so far and are probably kissing up to her by telling lies to her. I believe you should fight these lies.

  5. Francesco – I have posted your petition on my blog (http://nycrubberroomreporter.blogspot.com/2012/05/francesco-portelos-petition-new-york.html), sent the petition request to Facebook and Twitter. Hope this helps!!!
    Betsy Combier

  6. Has Ms. Hill completely and utterly LOST HER MIND! If Mr. Portelos did all of that, then my name is George W. Bush! Mr. Portelos taught me for about 3 years, and he never did that! He even yelled at someone for cursing! So I’m on his side!

  7. Pingback: Dear Student, Parent, Taxpayer….I’m sorry but I’m trying. | Protect Portelos

  8. This is what happens when you mix politics and education. You can’t do both. Either you have to work within the system or get shut out of it. Its a hard lesson to learn in life but that’s the way it is. You’re a martyr, sure, but who is educating your students now Were they better off with an average teacher who said nothing or one that led them to best design awards and is now no longer there Pick your battles in life friend. You’re not going to make a difference sitting in a paper closet.

  9. So the post finished at “So it struck me as strange th” where’s the rest

  10. I was a teacher with satisfactory ratings for 14 years until I became a UFT Chapter Leader at High School of Fashion under Principal Daryl Blank and Assistant Principal Andre Rodrigues. After becoming UFT Chapter Leader I received ratings of “Ineffective” for three years in a row. One “Ineffective” rating has been overturned by an arbitrator and another “Ineffective” is now in State Supreme Court. The third “Ineffective” is in the process of being appealed. Yes, the Dept. of Education is nothing more than a boys club, operating in mafia -like fashion including the principals and assistant principals in their circle of mafia-like power. I finally left the Dept. of Education since I was not willing to ever be part of the administrator’s circle of evil.

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